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Recognizing of the Optimum Stress Bracket



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Cardinal qualities to enter the optimum stress bracket

The grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed

The courage to change the things which should be changed 

The wisdom to distinguish one from the other.

Understanding the Importance of Optimum Stress Levels

Ever wonder how some people, with incredibly busy lives and multiple responsibilities, seem to take their stress in stride while other people, with even fewer responsibilities seem to fall apart under the least bit of pressure? We can begin to understand this paradox when we begin to understand the power of control. The power to function within the optimum stress bracket.

The level of stress under which you operate is important: if you are not under enough stress, then you may find that your performance suffers because you are bored and unmotivated. If you are under too much stress, then you will find that your results suffer as stress related problems interfere with your performance.  

People who feel in control of their lives are invigorated and challenged by their busy schedules. People who don't feel in control, often report being "overwhelmed" by the stresses of life. This second group tends to see problems as unsolvable and obstacles as insurmountable. But the first group believes there is a solution to every problem and a way around any obstacle.

It is important that you recognise that you are responsible for your own stress - very often it is a product of the way that you think. Learn to monitor your stress levels, and adjust them up if you need to be more alert, or down if you are feeling too tense. By managing your stress effectively you can significantly improve the quality of your life.

This section explains the linkage between being in control of stress and performance, and shows how you can ensure that you perform at your best by optimising stress levels.

The approach to optimising stress depends on the sort of stress being experienced:

  • Short term stress such as difficult meetings, sporting or other performances, or confrontational situations. Here the emphasis is on short term management of adrenaline to maximise performance.
  • Long term stress, where fatigue and high adrenaline levels over a long period can lead to degraded performances. Here optimising stress concentrates on management of fatigue, health, energy and morale.

Naturally there is some element of overlap between these.

Short term stress

The graph below shows the relationship between stress and the quality of performance when you are in situations that impose short term stress:

(Please note that this graph will be a slightly different shape for different people in different circumstances)

Where stress is low, you may find that your performance is low because you become bored, lack concentration and motivation.

Where stress is too high, your performance can suffer from all the symptoms of short-term stress.

In the middle, at a moderate level of stress, there is a zone of best performance. If you can keep yourself within this zone, then you will be sufficiently aroused to perform well while not being over-stressed and unhappy.

This graph, and this zone of optimum performance are different shapes for different people. Some people may operate most effectively at a level of stress that would leave other people either bored or in pieces. It is possible that someone who functions superbly at a low level might experience difficulties at a high level. Alternatively someone who performs only moderately at low level might perform exceptionally under extreme pressure.

Long term stress

Are you going great guns, with all cylinders firing?

Driving on the fast lane gives one a heady feeling, but the question arises - how long will the gas last?

However big your tank might be if you dont stop for a refill, sooner rather than later you will start running out of gas. But its never too late, shift to a slower lane and stop over at a nearby gas station or else very soon you would be stranded without gas that too on a high speed 120 miles/hour track. Stranded to become history - a hit and run case.

The problems of long term, sustained stress are more associated with fatigue, morale and health than with short term adrenaline management.

The graph below shows the way in which performance can suffer when you are under excessive long term stress:

The graph shows four major stages that you may go through in response to sustained levels of excessive stress:

1.   All cylinders firing: During the first phase you will be up to the task and face challenges with plenty of energy. Your response will probably be positive and effective.

2.   Running out of gas: After a period of time as your energy reserves decrease you may begin to feel seriously tired. You may start to feel anxious, frustrated and upset. The quality of your work may begin to suffer.

3.   Stranded without gas: As high stress continues you may begin to feel a sense of failure and may be ill more frequently. You may also begin to feel exploited by your organization. At this stage you may start to distance yourself from your employer, perhaps starting to look for a new job.

4.   A hit and run case: If high levels of stress continue without relief you may ultimately experience depression, burnout, nervous breakdown, or some other form of serious stress related illness.

Different people may move between these stages with different speeds under different stress conditions.

High performance in your job may require continued hard work in the face of high levels of sustained stress. If this is the case, it is essential that you learn to pay attention to your feelings. This ensures that you know when to relax, slacken off for a short period, get more sleep, or implement stress management strategies. If you do not take feelings of tiredness, upset or discontent seriously, then you may face failure, burn-out or breakdown.

As well as paying attention to your own stress levels, it may be worth paying attention to the stress under which people around you operate. If you are a manager seeking to improve productivity, then failing to monitor stress may mean that you drive employees into depression or burn-out. If this is a danger, then reduce stress for long enough for them to recover, and then reconsider the pace you are setting. At the other extreme it is also important to maintain some pressure or else the effects of monotony and lack of challenges will start taking toll.

Encouraging employees to get organized, both at home and at work can also help them feel more in control. Whether that means working from a clean desk, tidying one's car, or working from a list of things to do, these techniques (which as a trainer you may take for granted) can give a person a much greater sense of control over his stress levels.

Finding your optimum stress levels

The best way of finding your optimum level of stress is to keep a stress diary for a number of weeks.


Next Up - How to maintain a stress diary?