Stress response is defined as adaptation to significant external or internal stimuli. Therefore it has a very useful purpose, complications arise when our experience of stress is either constant or become acute.


Stress affects nearly every system of the body, influencing how people feel and behave. For example, it may be manifested by palpitations, sweating, dry mouth, shortness of breath, fidgeting, accelerated speech, augmentation of negative emotions (if already being experienced), and longer duration of stress fatigue.

There are two macro categories of stress, external and internal.


External stressors are stimuli from a person’s external environment including social interactions.

  • Social

    • Interpersonal relationship changes

  • Life Changes

    • Job loss

    • Death

    • New job


Internal stressors are stimuli that originate from within the body or mind, including internal dialogue.

  • Injury to the body

  • Rumminiations

  • Illness

  • Physical changes

Allostatic Load

In a normal working system the stress response produces an adaption through a process called allostasis. It does this via mediators such as cortisol, automatic, metabolic, and immune system, which act together to keep the body at homeostasis (in normal function). However, when our body can no longer adapt due to accumulation of stress or we experience acute trauma, the body reaches an allostatic load.  


Once the body can no longer come back with ease to homeostasis, which is the process of the body and all its organs returning to a state of equilibrium. From there it progresses to our biological systems no longer being able to turn “on” or “off” the stress response efficiently in other words the body cannot return to homeostasis. In turn there can be long term corrosive consequences to the brain and body. It can change fundamental systems (immune and endocrine) that keep our body regulated and healthy.

How Centric Lab define Wellbeing from the perspective of Homeostasis

How Centric Lab define Wellbeing from the perspective of Homeostasis

The HPA Axis

The HPA Axis


Understanding stress is fundamental to understanding wellbeing. Right now, the clearest path to wellbeing from the built environment perspective is through understanding stress. It is highly measurable, it’s a biological proxy for measuring experience, and it is highly responsive to built environment stimulation.

Mental Health and Absenteeism

Mental health issues were the second most reason for work absenteeism in 2016. The mental health issues can include anxiety disorders, depression, loneliness, as well as feelings of stress and anxiety.  One of the most interesting pieces of data is the rise of mental health issues between 2011 and 2016. There has been a staggering rise of 34 million more work days lost in 2016 than in 2011.

This rise could be due to three factors;

  • The amount of time that we spend on digital devices either for work pleasures. In 2017 we are consuming 5.9 hours per day compared to 2011 where it was 3.7 hours per day.

  • There is now a compounding variety of stressors due to living in increasingly over-sensed environments as well as life changes. (please see full chart below).

  • From a biological perspective people, social activities and social schedules function as relevant synchronising signals that compete or can enforce the influence of the light and day cycle depending on how they are scheduled. As such, work and school schedules, exercise and physical activity, as well as meal time can provide additional time signals to the biological clock.

How Mental Health Affects Work

Whilst M J Mapp cannot control or oversee the rate of mental health issues in the workplace, it can help guide and inform occupiers about mental health trends. Furthermore it can help M J Mapp understand their role in providing buildings that help support people by mitigating against the mental health vulnerabilities through built elements such as ventilation, lighting, and “third spaces”.


Learning what are the roots of stress for the occupier can help create mitigations for third spaces as well as help advice the occupier on the general wellbeing of their workforce. It can also help back up decisions that are being made in the building, putting the human first, so there is even further incentive to increase the quality of the building.

Light Pollution Light pollution comes in many forms, including sky glow, light trespass, glare, and over illumination from buildings. Disruption of circadian rhythm can cause disruption in melatonin production, which regulates sleep. There can also be changes in organ function and metabolic function.

Long term disruption to circadian rhythms can have physiological (diabetes, obesity) and cognitive problems (depression, anxiety disorders, Cognitive Decline).
Air Pollution An array of human activity can cause air pollution from construction, traffic, cooling systems, trains, airplanes etc. Higher Air Pollution Index (API) significantly reduces hedonic happiness and raises the rate of depressive symptoms.

Long Term Exposure to PM2.5-10 and PM2.5 avt levels typically experienced by many individuals in the United States is associated with significantly worse cognitive decline. This is especially important factor for those above 50 years of age.
Noise In Europe road traffic is the dominant source of environmental noise, with an estimated 100 million people affected by harmful levels, this is followed by railways and airplane noise. Some studies have shown a relationship between chronic exposure to noise pollution and elevated blood pressure, arterial hyperextensions, and obesity. The effects of noise pollution may, in part, be driven by the physiological response to the stress of being exposed to a persistent source of discomfort.

When we have a background noise, the brain has the capacity to adapt to this noise,’ he said. ‘And you don’t see it as an annoyance so much and you start to accept and adapt. But even if you are not conscious of the noise, this is still stimulating your organic system.’
Commuting Using public transport, cars, and active transport ( running, walking, cycling). A Canadian study looked at the level of daily exposure to PM2.5 in the underground metro network of three major cities. It identified that a typical 70 min commute, which constitutes 4.9% of the day, was estimated to contribute to over 50% of the estimated daily exposure to several PM2.5 metals.

“In turn this has an effect on rates of asthma, developing respiratory inflammation, and lung function. Furthermore, there is now evidence that long term exposure of PM2.5 can influence the onset of severe depression, with symptomatology so acute, it is leading some people to request the help of emergency services.”

Even though the physical activity of active transport by far outweighs risks from air pollution, it still exposes people to an unhealthy amount of air pollutants from traffic or construction.
Artificial light Any light source that is not natural light. Poor lighting can result in eye strain, fatigue and aching, which in turn is likely to lead to deterioration in performance, particularly if work relies on visual acuity such as computer-based (VDT) job roles.

Environmental Science and Technology found that LEDs contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other potentially dangerous substances.

In healthy subjects, blue light was found to inhibit melatonin secretion promote alertness, increase cognition and interfere with sleep.

The circadian disruption from blue light exposure found in young, healthy volunteers may have serious consequences for those with underlying mental illness.
Poor Ventilation Indoor air pollution in the workplace can be due to poor ventilation, mold, asbestos, materiality of physical elements (walls, furniture), and air pollution seeping from the outdoors. Studies have shown that workers that are in poorly ventilated environments concentrate less, type slower, develop respiratory problems, experience headaches, and in some cases experienced fatigue.
Noise Pollution Noise pollution in the workplace can be from machinery, people, and further environmental noise such as construction work. Research shows that stress, satisfaction, and the psychosocial environment can be influenced by the sensory overload imposed by environmental factors such as high noise levels.

In a study that surveyed 2391 office employees, found a significant relationship between increased noise and declining job satisfaction.

In some studies high noise amplified the impacts of stressful jobs.
Lifestyle Stress that is induced from life such as work, relationships, or financial. Across the board the biggest source of stress from a lifestyle perspective is money. Money is the most common cause of stress amongst women, while men tend to cite work as the reason they feel under pressure.

Economic insecurity has become the “new normal” in the UK with at least 70% of the UK’s working population “chronically broke.

Anxiety Anxiety disorders are one of the most prevalent psychiatric disorders, with a lifetime prevalence estimated at 7.3% globally. That would translate to 1 out 14 people worldwide meeting diagnostic criteria at any point in time. There are various “types” of anxiety and a person can experience one of several of these types throughout their life. The different categorisations are panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobia, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety disorder, and selective mutism. Despite the differences between the different categories of anxiety, they have commonalities such as feelings of fear and avoidance, usually in response to a specific situations in the absence of true danger. Research has indicated that 40% of Americans report feeling anxious during the work day (American Psychological Association, 2009), and 72% of Americans experiencing daily anxiety report that it interferes with their work and personal lives (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2006).

Daily fluctuations in anxiety are also a concern, as they can lead to higher levels of counterproductive behaviors and organizational turnover.
Loneliness Loneliness is a person’s perception of their own isolation from other people. It is more closely related to the quality rather than the quantity of social interaction. For example, if a person has good-quality social ties with three people which allows them to feel connected, that can be far better for their mental health than having ten loose ties. Research indicates that loneliness is a risk factor for, and may contribute to, poorer overall cognitive performance, faster cognitive decline, poorer executive functioning, more negativity and depressive cognition, heightened sensitivity to social threats, a confirmatory bias in social cognition that is self-protective and paradoxically self-defeating, heightened anthropomorphism, and contagion that threatens social cohesion. Recent studies reveal that half of CEOs report experiencing feelings of loneliness in their role, and of this group, 61 percent believe it hinders their performance. First time CEO’s are particularly susceptible to this isolation. Nearly 70 percent of first-time CEOs who experience loneliness report that the feelings negatively affect their performance.
Fatigue Fatigue is the end result of integration of multiple factors such as time awake, time of day, and workload. The most important cause of fatigue is the lack of restorative sleep. Fatigue is usually in reference to an impairment in task performance. Also, fatigue has a physiological aspect that means not having enough energy to do work and experience subject reluctance to continue a task.

Lack of sleep can affect people's performance and impair their mental alertness, which leads to dangerous errors.

Workers’ fatigue is a significant problem in modern industry, largely because of high demand jobs, long duty periods, disruption of circadian rhythms, and cumulative sleep debt that are common in many industries.

The most important effects of fatigue including decreased task motivation, longer reaction time, reduction of alertness, impaired concentration, poorer psychometric coordination, problems in memory and information processing, and poor judgment.

Josh Artus