Have You Ever Heard…?

Have you ever heard any of these?

  • “OK, everyone, because of the market situation there have been rumors of this, but we are going to reorganize.” or
  • “The bank just called and said our mortgage rate is changing.” or
  • “We are going to be migrating to a new computer system.” or
  • “Your child’s school just called to discuss a change they have noticed in behavior.” or
  • “With modern medication this can be treated indefinitely.”

If yes, congratulations; you have experienced the fear, anxiety, and stress associated with change! As most changes in life are seemingly forced upon us often times “NO” seems to be the hardwired response of our stressed mind. This blog series explores some of the science behind how “NO” hijacks our mind when we hear about change. Parts five and six of the blog will explore some tools managers, change leaders, and those who are facing change can use to keep “NO” from hijacking the brain.

First a Little Bit About Stress:

The National Institutes of Health defines stress as a physical and emotional reaction that people experience as they encounter change. Further stress is a chain reaction where a part of the brain called the amygdala can send distress signals to another part of the brain called the hypothalamus. While the amygdala and hypothalamus come up often in this blog series by name it may be easier to just think of them as a command center. A command center where strong emotions like fear and anger get translated into base responses that are communicated to the rest of the body, often as a fight or flight signal.

In ancient history, the “fight-flight” response was a good thing. It kept us from getting eaten by predators or getting bonked on the head by our club-wielding neighbor. Physically the “fight-flight” response is responsible for the physical reactions most people associate with change and stress including increased heart rate, heightened senses, a deeper intake of oxygen, and the rush of adrenaline that in previous times we would have used to increase our bodily strength. Finally, toward the end of the stress response, a hormone called cortisol is released, which helps to restore the physiological homeostasis lost in the response.

Changes in our professional and personal lives still quite often fire up our fight-flight response.

In today’s human-created environments we are MUCH less likely to have to run from predators or be clubbed by our neighbors. However, changes in our professional and personal lives still quite often fire up our fight-flight response. We typically call this stress or the stress response. As most people are aware, and what we will talk about in the next installments of this blog series, is stress that is not remediated is bad for your health. Not only this but the stress responses triggered by the amygdala can cause humans to interact with each other and their modern environments in silly and often dangerous ways. The immediate “NO” that comes from people when presented with a change is not in and of itself silly or dangerous. But it can be the initial clue that a deeper, stronger, more immediate, overwhelming, and a possible out-of-measure-with-an-actual-stimulus response is coming. As such, it is a marker for managers and change leaders to be cognizant of when managing change. In the upcoming installments of this blog series we will talk about how emotional threats can become interpreted as something more sinister. But more importantly we will learn how to regain some control and keep NO from hijacking the brain.

This blog post is part of a six-part series:

  1. Have You Ever Heard…?
  2. A Little Neuroscience
  3. That Can’t Be Healthy
  4. Meet the Hijackers
  5. Beat the Hijackers
  6. Strategies for Beating the Hijackers