Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Stress is the buzzword doing the rounds today, the malaise of modern living! The
very word stress conjures up feelings of anxiety, tension, worry, panic and bodily
sensations of muscles tightening, heart beating faster, breathlessness or sweating.
It may also be an experience of being run down, chronically fatigued and
struggling to cope with life and its demands. All these may be manifestation of

Stress is not something that is done to you. It is simply the body’s reactions to
situations that are frightening, confusing, exciting or tiring. These reactions can
be physical, emotional and behavioral. Whether we feel stressed in a particular
situation or not depends upon the demands made on us, the resources or support
we have at our command and the constraints that limit our capacity to meet the

The answer may not be an easy one nor a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You may be stressed
and may not even know it! Some people lead busy, active lives, rushing from one
thing to another and yet never feel stressed out. They seem to thrive on it! Every
problem, situation or a new task is a challenge to them and they take it on boldly,
overcoming hurdles with panache. There are others who lead relatively quiet,
uneventful lives with plenty of time on their hands, yet feel weighed down by
nitty-gritties and cares of the world, stressed out, unhappy and struggling. Each
one’s experience or perception of stress may be unique depending upon his or her
past experience, personality, temperament, attitude, expectations and coping

Stress Curve & Human Performance

UNDER STRESS – lethargy, boredom, frustration, loss of
confidence, irritability, longer time to finish work.
OVERSTRESS – low concentration, worry, poor decision making,
depression, low self-esteem, poor work quality, emotional outbursts,
accidents, sleep problems, illness.
OPTIMUM STRESS – peak performance, good concentration,
effective problem solving, high level of motivation, harmonious
relationships, confident decision making, high self esteem, plenty of

There is no life without stress. Some stress is essential for our existence and our
growth, as a completely unstressed person faces no challenge, no motivation to
grow or evolve and has no impetus for creativity or achievement. Lack of
stimulation or absence of stress can lead to boredom and a lack of purpose in life.
There are ups and downs in life which ultimately balance out and are manageable
at the end of the day. Hence growth and performance always increase under levels
of optimum stress. But when stress levels increase beyond this to alarmingly high
levels, it becomes an impediment to performance and achievement with the person
feeling stretched beyond his capacity, feeling physically and emotionally
exhausted and frustrated. He or she is on a permanent ‘overdrive’ without results.
Stress over and above this level leads to an inevitable breakdown and burn-out
causing serious physical ailments, accidents, personality dysfunction, addictions
and major or minor mental illnesses.

Not all stress is bad. We sometimes hear people say ‘I work better under pressure’
or ‘I thrive on competition’. There are others who endlessly crib about work
pressures. What we need is a fine balance so that we feel stretched, but not so far
that we might snap!
Some stress is definitely required to stimulate us to do the simple day to day tasks.
Stress is not a pathological symptom. It is an essential feature of the mechanism
which drives people. A healthy individual is never content to live life passively
but is constantly striving to achieve his goals and dreams and the path may be
lined with thousand hurdles. The trick then is to fine tune our lives to strike that
optimum balance between how much stress we can allow for ourselves and how to
harness its innate motivating power to our advantage. To this extent how we cope
with stress can tilt the balance. If we cope successfully it improves our
performance and boosts our self confidence to achieve further. However, if the
change/threat/stress is too intense or too sudden, it will be difficult to adapt
quickly and coping becomes a Herculean task. Thus, ‘good’ stress can turn ‘bad’.
Mental training and habit control can keep bad stress under check and prevent it
from ruining our lives. It is important to be aware of your own personal
relationship to stress and come to terms with it, viz., ‘effective stress


Stressors by themselves are neutral. The response to them is entirely dependent
upon you - it is inside you, not the result of some outside force. It is in your power
to face the challenge and see it through so that stress becomes a stimulus to your
well being. You alone have the power and the ability to control whether your
stress response will be positive or negative. If you are happy, optimistic and
confident, even the stressful events may appear less traumatic. Your response will
be positive and coping less strained. Situations may not be as stressful as the
meaning you attach to it! So in reality, learning to manage stress in positive ways,
learning to turn it off or to use it constructively in relationships can certainly turn