Mallory Welsh, LCSW

I work with many clients who struggle with stress and anxiety. Many times, clients are looking for ways to better manage their stress. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) there is a difference between stress and anxiety. Both are emotional responses. Stress is typically caused by a trigger and has a short-term affect; whereas anxiety is persistent worry that doesn’t go away even with the lack of stressor. Either way, stress and anxiety are both challenging to deal with. Some people argue however that stress (not anxiety) can actually be good for you according to the article from Fast Company titled, “Bored or overloaded? This is the amount of stress you need to get things done” by author Dina Smith. Smith does explain at the beginning of her article that chronic stress can have impacts on your physical and mental health, such as mental disorders, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. 

With that said, Smith also points out that the perfect amount of stress is actually good for us. Below describes the key points from Smith’s article about what is the perfect amount of stress and why it can be good for us. 

  • Stress and performance connection. Smith describes the Yerkes-Dodson law which is when individuals have the perfect amount of stress, it allows them to peak at their performance. The Yerkes-Dodson law is often depicted as an inverted “U”. In order to perform at our peak, our prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part of the brain that does executive functioning and higher thinking function in our brain, needs to be at its optimal level. If we are tired, bored, and not motivated, only small amounts of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine are released. The opposite reaction happens when we are experiencing a high level of stress, we then have an excessive amount of norepinephrine and dopamine are released. Thus, if either of those happen, it is hard to have a productive and peak performance. Of course, every person is different, and in order to reach peak performance, it can vary from one person to another. It is often recommended to do easier tasks such as answering emails when feeling lower energy levels and when feeling higher energy levels, you should do harder tasks, as that can help you reach peak performance when feeling stressed. 
  • Too little stress can lead to boredom. Sometimes it can also be helpful to gently invite stress into your day because boredom can actually increase depression and anxiety. Yes, sometimes lack of stress is also not healthy for our mental health. Typically, lack of stress can look like feeling bored at your job because you no longer feel a sense of challenge. What should you do next if this is your case? Perhaps scheduling a meeting with your boss about taking on a new role and/or project.
  • Stress management skills. So, what should I do when I have too much stress? Basic stress management skills are done affectively when you have your mind and body connecting. This can look like by having healthy sleep hygiene (which is an average of eight hours a night). It can also look like eating foods that nourish your body. Also doing some form of body movement can reduce stress. I often recommend clients to get at least 20 minutes of cardio 3 times a week as research has shown that can reduce depression. I also encourage clients to engage in yoga and meditation as research shows that can decrease anxiety. Also getting outside and taking a short walk can also improve overall wellbeing, even if it is chilly outside! If you read my recent blog post, “Why is journaling helpful for my mental health?”, I also highlight how journaling can also be a useful stress management skill.   

It is nearly impossible to constantly have the perfect amount of stress because our lives and our days change constantly. Give yourself some grace when trying to figure out what too little stress and what too much stress looks like, as it 100% varies from person to person and day to day. 

If you are currently struggling with anxiety, it may be a good idea to connect with one of our skilled counselors at Symmetry Counseling today. You can contact them at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment for online therapy in Chicago.