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How stress levels can impact our performance

The Yerkes-Dodson Curve outlines the relationships between stress (or pressure) and performance and suggests that some levels of stress can improve performance up to a certain point but when demands become too much performance starts to reduce. The optimal levels of stress and performance come together in the middle of the curve.

An example of this is athletic performance, a good amount of pressure before a big match or competition can sharpen the performance but if a player is under too much pressure then they might choke and not perform to the best of their ability.

Without some levels of stress we can become inactive, bored and it can lead to a lack in motivation. When we don’t have any targets or expectations to meet, if we are not challenged, or if our works gives us no purpose or feels meaningless, we do the bare minimum and our performance is lacking.

When we have a manageable level of stress or working outside of our comfort zone we become stretched and this is generally when we are at our peak performance, focussed and motivated. The levels of stress hormones that we have allow us to perform at our best and this can be the push we need when we have a big project we are working on or a deadline looming.

However if this stress continues over a period of time, we become fatigued and exhausted. This is when we have constant pressure with no time to recover and we enter the stress overload zone. At this point our performance starts to decrease and we start to make mistakes, become overwhelmed and not be as effective. The more we are subjected to this the more anxiety, panic and anger takes over and performance starts to plummet.

If these high sustained levels of stress continue this can lead to burnout. At this point performance levels are minimal, we will be unlikely to be able to concentrate on tasks or make good decisions and this can lead to mental, physical or emotional collapse. At this point we need an immediate break and possibly medical interventions.

As managers and leaders it is good for us to be aware of this model and the harmful impact that constant pressure can have on ourselves and our teams. We need to ensure that stress and pressure is regulated so that performance can be optimised and potential harm is mitigated. It is important to understand what might be causing stress within your organisation so that you can start to control these and put measures in place to reduce stress so your employees can thrive.

If you would like to talk through how we can support your organisation and your teams please do get in touch with our Director of Wellbeing, Gemma Carter-Morris on Gemma Morris, Director of Wellbeing, Next Steps Consulting

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