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Keep stress at optimal levels

Stress at an optimal level can spur the youth to achieve more, says Jitendra Nagpal

education Updated: Apr 14, 2010 09:26 IST
Jitendra Nagpal
Jitendra Nagpal
Hindustan Times

Stress is like the common cold. But from a motivational perspective, everyone agrees that stress is healthy to a certain degree. If there’s too little stimulation from daily life issues, you may feel listless and bored. But on the opposite end, when targets are too tight, burnout starts. Therefore, identifying the optimal stress level for good performance is an individual quality.

What one person deems a challenge, another may find an unnecessary burden. However, it’s a fine line between the two.

Stress at an optimal level can spur the youth to the highest achievements. Let’s recall the many times when you delivered the best result when you were most involved and challenged. Recall as much as possible. Now write down some of the qualities that stimulate you to high performance. What are the qualities of your environment? What pressures or deadlines keep you on your toes? What task energises you or improves your moods or bores you? What sort of help do you need?

Researchers say emotional states of how we feel and perform are related to our internal system of dealing with daily pressures and challenges. Some key issues about the spectrum of stress that need to be kept in mind are:

Burnout: Here you are barely functioning. You batteries are running low, like a clock that’s losing time. You can’t concentrate anymore. You are exhausted at the beginning of every day. You are about to break down.

Distress: You are just able to mange, but it really takes a lot out of you. You are jaded at the end of the day and it’s getting more and more difficult to bounce back the next day.

Harmony and balance. You are well, coping a lot better. You may feel tired at the end of the day but you are able to rebound without any distress.

High performance. You feel energised, not drained, at the end of the day. You are enthusiastic and full of energy. You feel neutral and turned on by what you are doing.

Most of the time, we oscillate between the balanced and the distress states. Have you ever felt that you were right at the edge of being overwhelmed by difficult events? Then, you are already quite familiar with the terminology and your response to situations that disrupt or threaten your physical or psychological functioning.

Body and mind…uninterrupted: How does stress and strain produce such effects? By draining our resources and keeping us off balance psychologically, stress upsets our complex internal chemistry. In particular, it may interfere with effective functioning of our immune system – the mechanism through which our body recognises and destroys potentially harmful substances and intruders, such as bacteria and viruses, as well as cancerous cells.

Additional research on the effects of stress on animals and human suggests that a variety of stressors, including disruptions in interpersonal relationship, loneliness, academic pressure, daily hassles, and the lack of social support can interfere with our immune system.

In conclusion, optimal or workable stress is a common part of life as we begin the journey, something few of us can avoid altogether. A large body of research indicates as arousal increases, task performance may rise at first, but that at some point it falls. So, it’s time to be aware of what works best for whom at what time.

The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity and Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’

First Published: Apr 13, 2010 11:24 IST