Stress, mind and leadership
Stress causes brain dysfunction, impairing clarity of mind and judgment including the ability to evaluate one’s situation in a realistic way. Performance-impairing chronic stress is today very common at all levels of society.
It will be argued that stress-induced impairment of brain function has contributed importantly to the present serious world problems. This is because stress causes a.o. impaired judgment, lacking foresight, faltering realism, irresponsibility, strong egoism, shortsighted greed for money and power.
The impaired brain function has prevented leaders and decision-makers from making adequate decisions, and even worse, has made them neglect the interests and needs of the society for the sake of their own egoistic benefit.
Brain research reveals detrimental effects
Brain research has observed detrimental effects of stress on the functioning of the brain. Psychology has also arrived at a better understanding of the mechanisms of stress sensitivity, replacing intuitive and speculative ideas with experimentally validated theories. Human development psychology draws upon this knowledge and has developed a deeper understanding of the negative effects of stress on behavior and the development of higher stages of psychological development (self-actualization).
Chronic stress is abundant
Medical research indicates that chronic stress is abundant at all levels of society. For example, the chronic stress-related disease, high blood pressure is present in 70% of Americans at the age of 70. Of course, all cases are not caused by stress, but a large majority is. According to American Psychological Association (2008), almost every American reported feeling stress to some degree. 30% reported chronic stress and another 50% percent reported moderate stress.
That is, 80 percent of the US population is reporting stress levels high enough to affect the mind including mental performance. Add to this the observation that many people are not aware that they are in a state of stress and you arrive at even higher number.
An important fact is that stress always affects the functioning of the brain in a negative way. Stress is an integrated part of the survival response that is activated when we consciously or subconsciously experience a threat.
Stress brings about a major shift in the control of behavior away from higher centers in the frontal brain to Survival-Oriented-Behavior (SOB) organizing centers in the midbrain. In chronic stress, brain scans have revealed so-called functional holes where there is little or no activity, which may cause important brain dysfunction when present in important brain areas. Below to the right you find a picture of such a brain, having holes in the prefrontal cortex.
Conclusion 1: Brain dysfunction due to stress is epidemic
Because of the high prevalence of stress, disturbed, survival-oriented brain function is prevalent in probably a very large majority of Americans. Probably this goes for people in other developed countries as well.
Conclusion 2: Testing for low stress level in leaders is necessary
Because of the high prevalence of stress, in the population, the risk is considerable that societal leaders and other important decision-makers have suboptimal brain function due to stress. Reliable and sensitive tests exist and must be used to ensure that leaders are selected who have are not in a state of chronic stress or have a low stress tolerance.
This would reduce the risk that leaders are appointed who will make serious mistakes, errors of judgment, or misuse their position for personal gain or criminal actions.
In this blog and associated articles, we will apply the most recent knowledge, suggesting constructive solutions to ensure better leadership which is greatly needed to solve the serious world crisis. For more, see the article “Stress and mind” and and the especially important posts
- “Economic crisis – brain dysfunction a major cause?” and
- “Why companies decline – a new understanding“.
Jaan Suurküla, M.D.