Who’s feeling a little stressed these days? If you’re nodding your head yes, you’re not alone. We’re facing some challenging times that can really throw our stress levels for a loop. It’s important that we understand what stress levels can do and how we can make stress work for us.
Stress can affect every single system in our body. Chronic stress can even lead to serious problems, such as diabetes, mental disorders and high blood pressure. How do you know when you’ve hit that marker of “too much” stress? And is there a state where we don’t have enough stress to function? Turns out, there is a big connection between our level of stress and performance.
Understanding the Yerkes-Dodson Law
The Yerkes-Dodson law shows us what level of stress people must have in order to have peak performance. This isn’t an amount of stress that would hurt an individual, but instead creates a mental state where the person is focused and driven to complete a task.
To better understand the Yerkes-Dodson Law, we have to understand what stress does to our brain. The part that it affects the most is the prefrontal cortex, which is the area responsible for executive functioning and high-level thinking. When you’re bored your brain releases just a tiny bit of dopamine. It’s not enough to make you motivated to get the work done, but it’s enough to keep you awake. When you’re stressed, on the other hand, your brain produces even more dopamine and this can motivate you to stay alert and complete a task. It’s a natural incentive and “high” to get the work done.
What happens when we’re too stressed?
So, how much stress is too much? The answer really varies person to person. The one thing that remains clear is that we need some level of stress to adequately perform at work. The pressure that causes stress can be helpful because it allows us to focus and gives us the stamina we need to overcome the challenge ahead.
It’s really easy to stress yourself out to the point where you’ve gone past peak performance, and now you’re in a state of potential harm. You’ll know that you’ve hit this point when it’s hard to concentrate and you may even have physical reactions to stress levels such as sweating, increased heart rate, inability to focus and an overall sense of unease.
When you’ve hit this point, it’s not worth trying to get the work done. Your brain needs a way to get rid of some of the stress to bring you back down to peak performance territory. Luckily, science has been able to prove many different ways that you can reduce stress. From ample sleep, to eating well, to exercising regularly, to meditating, you can effectively bring your level of stress down to a point where it is effective again.
What happens when we’re not stressed enough?
On the flip side, not being stressed enough can hurt you, too. Perhaps your job isn’t as interesting to you as it was when you began, or all of your home improvement projects are done and walking into those four walls everyday feels a little ho-hum.
At this point, your brain is no longer sending a signal that you need to focus and complete a task. You may feel a little distant, bored, disengaged or even burnt out. These are tell-tale signs that you might need a little motivation in your life to get back to what you enjoy. And stress is just how to get there. Bet you never thought you’d read that line.
Remember, stress is important for our performance as human beings and gets a bad reputation. Overstressing ourselves can be hurtful as we discussed with the many health implications it can cause. Under-stressing ourselves can be just as bad and lead to us not meeting our full potential or finding things that we truly enjoy in life.