You Need Stress – Really!

Ramblings of a Psychologist

By Dr. Scott Duggan

You Need Stress – Really!

Stress seems to be everywhere these days. People are stressed about their job, their family, friends, the economy. Everything seems to cause stress – so what in the world is it good for? Well, everything in moderation. If your stress level is too low, you won’t perform well due to lack of stimulation, but with too much stress, performance at home or at work degrades due to anxiety. This phenomenon is so prolific that it actually has a name. It’s called the Yerkes-Dodson Law. This law says there is an optimal amount of stress that is helpful in motivating us to do things as opposed to sleep (minimal stress), or lack of alertness. But once that optimal level of stress has been reached, any more stress causes anxiety, disorganization (mentally and often in the work space), and lower performance.

Stress Performance Connection

Think of a practical example. If you had to give a speech, and you were very stressed out about it, you would likely stammer and pause, maybe get flustered, lose your place and maybe even panic looking into the crowd. However, if you didn’t have any stress, then you wouldn’t spend the time properly preparing your speech, practicing it so that you know it well, or even trying to deliver it in an eloquent manner. The optimal amount of stress helps you concentrate on writing a great speech. It also helps you to want to rehearse it until you were comfortable with it. Finally, it would help you deliver it fully alert, but not anxious.

Many, I realize are under too much stress. Maybe giving a speech just isn’t your thing. Actually, research shows that people fear public speaking more than death! Maybe the stress you face is a conflict with a co-worker, or worse, your boss, or simply having too much work to do. Maybe you are worrying about some issues with your kids? Or tensions you’ve been having with your spouse? If so, although you have to make sure your stress level doesn’t soar off the chart, optimal stress is something we all need. Trust me, years and years of research on this does not lie.

So if you have too much stress in your life, how do you get it down and keep it to the optimal place so that you don’t reach a crisis position, such as quitting your job in anger, or breaking up with your partner? It is often helpful to learn self-care. Self-care refers to looking after yourself first. In many of the long distance flights, the flight attendants did, or at least used to tell you that if the oxygen masks drop to put your own on first. This is because without taking care of yourself, you may be able to help a couple people but then someone likely has to help you. If you put your own mask on first, you can help many more people.

Great analogy, but in real life, it is a bit more difficult. One of the best ways to take care of yourself is to learn personal boundaries and how to protect them. Sometimes this means saying “no” when asked to volunteer for yet another project, or taking a break from the gym or simply by making sure you do things that you like in you free time.

A great way to get started with this is to seek personal counselling from a trained professional who counsels in this way. They can be motivating, informative and helpful.

You can visit Dr. Scott Duggan’s website at

Graph and information courtesy of

One Response to You Need Stress – Really!

  1. Pingback: Customer Service / Customer Care / Best Practices « Bruce Mayhew Blog: Business Communication

I’ll enjoy reading your thoughts and your experiences.

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