Thursday, July 13, 2006

stress management : Stress and Your Performance

So far, we have seen that stress is a negative experience. We have seen the short-term negative effects that stress hormones can have on your performance, and have seen how stress can contribute to burnout.

The Positive Effects of Pressure

Sometimes, however, the pressures and demands that may cause stress can be positive in their effect. One example of this is where sportsmen and women flood their bodies with fight-or-flight adrenaline to power an explosive performance. Another example is where deadlines are used to motivate people who seem bored or unmotivated. We will discuss this briefly here, but throughout the rest of this site we see stress as a problem that needs to be solved.

And the Negative...

In most work situations jobs, our stress responses causes our performance to suffer. A calm, rational, controlled and sensitive approach is usually called for in dealing with most difficult problems at work: Our social inter-relationships are just too complex not to be damaged by an aggressive approach, while a passive and withdrawn response to stress means that we can fail to assert our rights when we should.

Before we look further at how to manage stress and our performance, it is important to look at the relationship between pressure and performance in a little more detail, first by looking at the idea of the “Inverted-U”, and second by looking at "Flow". This is the ideal state of concentration and focus that brings excellent performance.

Pressure & Performance – the Inverted U
The relationship between pressure and performance is explained in one of the oldest and most important ideas in stress management, the “Inverted-U” relationship between pressure and performance (see below). The Inverted-U relationship focuses on people’s performance of a task.

The left hand side of the graph is easy to explain for pragmatic reasons. When there is very little pressure on us to carry out an important task, there is little incentive for us to focus energy and attention on it. This is particularly the case when there may be other, more urgent, or more interesting, tasks competing for attention. As pressure on us increases, we enter the “area of best performance”. Here, we are able to focus on the task and perform well – there is enough pressure on us to focus our attention but not so much that it disrupts our performance.

© Mind Tools Ltd, 1995-2006

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