Frequently Asked Questions

Stress is what happens in our bodies, brains and relationships when we are responding to something challenging. Trauma is the “ache” and suffering that we later feel, which can be traced to a stressful experience that overwhelmed us. When our resilience to stress is strong, we are like a tree bending in a storm. When the stress is gone, we go on with our lives with a memory of the hardship. Trauma is a rupture, like a tree broken by the wind. Trauma requires special awareness and effort to achieve repair and wellbeing.
The study of how stress affects the body is complex. The most careful and elaborate study of stress (and how to relieve suffering from stress) is in the area of traumatic stress—how trauma negatively affects our bodies, brains and relationships. We believe that an appreciation of what trauma does to us provides the highest standards to notice and combat the extremes of stress in our lives. This doesn’t mean everyone is traumatized. But we can begin to acknowledge how we are all affected by trauma in our midst.
Trauma-Informed Design (TID) is the application of “do no harm” principles to all fields of work. Neuroscience shows that a stunning range of traumatic life experiences can change people’s brains, personalities and behaviors. Many who suffer these experiences don’t realize their behavioral states are actually echoes of traumatic experiences in their lives. Organizations that serve or encounter traumatized populations, such as healthcare, social services, and humanitarian aid providers also suffer from traumas—either their own, or vicariously. In these fields of work, trauma is a cross-cutting theme that, if ignored, causes negative or poor outcomes. Academics and service providers, including Greenleaf, have advanced Trauma-Informed Design as a way to mitigate the impact of trauma on programming. In essence, Trauma-Informed Design acknowledges the prevalence of trauma in many fields of work, on both traumatized populations and the individuals in organizations working with them. TID keeps best practices for avoiding triggering or re-traumatizing populations at the forefront of every program.
Resilience is the ability to positively adapt to, rebound from, and/or grow from significant adversity and the stress it creates. It applies to a whole spectrum of adversity: from everyday life challenges to tragedy, threats and trauma. Resilience is influenced by personal disposition, available coping resources, previous life experience or stress exposure, state of physical health and supportive social connections.
EAPs and traditional mental health services are most utilized by staff who recognize that they have already reached the point of break down—or are close. Generally, EAP services are designed to provide individual support for those who are struggling in acute stress. The wellbeing programs Greenleaf offers are specifically designed to serve a different segment of the workforce that, studies show, do not widely utilize EAPs or other services, because they do not perceive their stress as sufficiently severe. Greenleaf’s programs bolster the wellbeing of these staff who are stress-affected, but not yet at the point of breakdown. In our terms, these are staff who are in the “yellow” or “orange” stress zone, rather than the “red” stress zone. In the U.S. workforce generally, 43% of workers say that their job has a negative impact on their stress level, with 22-28% of workers surveyed also citing negative effects on sleeping habits, eating habits, and weight, according to a 2016 survey from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Specifically in the healthcare industry, up to 60% of physicians say they have experienced symptoms of burnout, including losses in physical and emotional health, personal and professional relationships, and engagement and productivity. What’s more concerning is that most of these self-reporting burnt out physicians are still at work, coping as best they can using their own methods. Greenleaf’s neuroscience-based programs are designed to give those individuals the practical tools they need to increase their wellbeing and mitigate the impacts of stress—to stay healthier at work, for longer.
We know that stress is expensive for U.S. employers. According to The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, over half of the 550 million working days lost annually in the U.S. from absenteeism are stress related and that one in five of all last-minute no-shows are due to job stress. According to research compiled by the American Institute of Stress, unanticipated absenteeism is estimated to cost American companies $602.00/worker/year. One often-cited study puts the total cost of job-stress in the US at $300 billion annually. We also know that chronic stress distorts brain function and behavior. Physical health and emotional resilience decline, personal and professional relationships are damaged, engagement and productivity plummet, and feelings of fear and anxiety dominate. There isn’t a single organization in any industry that can afford these stress consequences. Additionally, many of us may feel that it is morally wrong to expose workers to stress levels that have toxicity to wellbeing. Some industries have always been highly stressful or traumatic due to their very nature (e.g. healthcare, military, disaster relief). We have seen organizations in these fields leading the effort to care for colleagues who have been injured by acute or chronic stress. In fact, we use a framework for talking about stress levels adapted from the U.S. Navy, with their permission. Finally, many of us can identify with being traumatized by stress levels that we’ve never encountered before. We might feel that living in our rapidly-changing world has quickly become far more demanding, and it is difficult to cope with all the concerns, threats, distractions and challenges. We are not as well equipped to adapt in the current climate and we are sometimes overwhelmed.
At Greenleaf, we do not accept the idea that people should either persist in the midst of toxic stress or pick a new career. Greenleaf works to increase organizational wellbeing—including culture, productivity, human interactions and leadership capacity. Our neuroscience-based offerings are designed to work on every level: for organizations, teams and individuals. In our experience, there are sources of stress in any workplace that can be changed—and it is important to assess which are the prevailing issues at any particular organization. Poor management/leadership, organizational politics and administrative support issues are among the largest stressors at every organization, including those where employees perform dangerous jobs in high-risk environments. Overwhelmingly, employees report feelings of stress caused by these internal issues, compounding stress from environments where critical incidents put their personal safety at risk. These levels of continuous, low-level stress eat away at an organization’s culture, and there is no quick fix. Greenleaf works with organizations to cultivate an environment of wellbeing that reinforces itself, where everyone can bring their whole selves to work.
We would be happy to answer your questions and provide additional information about our services! You can get in touch with us via phone at 571.317.0684 or email at We hope to meet you in person sometime, so please introduce yourself to us at a conference or event—check out our news and events to see where we are speaking and what events we are attending. You can also check out our services, read about our previous work for clients or download capability statements from our website. Follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter to keep up with our current work and hear the latest in the neuroscience of resiliency.