Effects of stress on our performance: enemy or ally?

Stress is a response of our body that mobilizes physiological and psychological resources in order to meet some demand. It could be said that it is an adaptive response, that is, beneficial in order to get started and help you function in demanding situations.

Surely we all have the idea that stress is harmful, something to avoid. We have even talked in this blog about the harmful effects it can have on our health. So… Why do we also say that it is an adaptive and beneficial response?

It is the excess of stress that is really harmful. The overworking that our body undergoes when the stress response is chronically activated is going to be what causes our health to suffer. And not only will our physical and mental state be affected, as this will lead to a decrease in our performance in our work, academic or sports activity. Therefore, we can see that stress, health and performance go hand in hand.

Throughout our day to day we can face an infinite number of potentially stressful situations that affect us according to our coping capacity and the attitude we adopt in these situations. But it is not only situations of “excess” that can cause us stress, but also situations of “deprivation” can be stressful, such as routine work without incentives, being unemployed, suffering an injury that limits our normal activity .

We must learn to live with stress since it is a completely normal human response and from which we can take advantage if we can listen to it and observe what it is warning us. For example, being worried about an exam can make you spend more time preparing and getting a good grade; Being more alert when you drive in the rain can make you moderate the speed and pay more attention to the road avoiding a possible accident… These are situations in which stress is fulfilling its adaptive and beneficial purpose by mobilizing our resources.

The fact that stress results in a harmful or adaptive response for us depends on many factors, let’s look at some examples:

·Our personality (impatient, competitive, hostile…)

·Coping skills we have

·Our beliefs and attitudes to problems

·The assessment we make of situations as a threat or as a challenge

·The social support we perceive from others

·Biological predisposition

The combination of these factors will be responsible for feeling a level of activation that influences our performance and our state of physical and mental health.

A low stress response to situations that require us to mobilize greater resources can make our performance lower than expected. For example, if I have a diagnosed disease, but it does not worry me, I will not mobilize in order to have a correct treatment. If a job offer does not “activate” me to send my resume and attend an interview, I will lose a valuable professional opportunity…

An excessive stress response will also harm our daily activity as it will generate anguish, tension, difficulty in making decisions… and therefore also prevents us from normal performance and causes us to lose opportunities.

It is the optimal level of activation or stress that will give us the energy and mobilization capacity necessary to meet demands with adequate performance and without compromising our health.

In this line, psychology can be a great help in order to know how to manage this level of stress so that it does not become pathological. Understanding and accepting the emotions and physiological responses they cause is one of the keys to losing the fear of feeling stress and anxiety. Learning coping skills such as relaxation, problem solving, assertive communication, can make us face the demanding situations of day to day feeling more capable and more confident in our resources.

Psychology Service

California University Hospital

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