Stress is a natural part of life, and we all experience it in different ways. From daily hassles like traffic and deadlines to major life events like a job loss or a health scare, stress can affect us physically, emotionally, and mentally. However, not all stress is bad. In fact, a certain amount of stress can actually be beneficial and help us perform at our best. The key is finding the optimal level of stress for peak performance.

The Performance-Stress Curve (also known as the Human Function Curve) is a graphical representation of the relationship between stress and performance. The curve shows that as stress increases, performance also increases up to a point, beyond which further increases in stress lead to a decline in performance. The curve looks like an inverted U-shape, with the peak at the top representing the optimal level of stress for peak performance.

So, how can you find your optimal level of stress for peak performance? The key is to use stress to motivate you to perform better and meet your goals while not letting it get out of hand.  That’s because too much stress can lead to burnout, exhaustion, and poor performance. It’s all about finding the right balance. This article provides 10 tips for finding that balance. 


Tip 1: Recognize your stressors


Before you can find your optimal level of stress, you’ll need to identify the situations and events that stress you out in a bad way. This can include work deadlines, public speaking, or difficult conversations. By recognizing your stressors, you can prepare for them and develop strategies to cope with them. This can include breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable steps or developing relaxation techniques to manage anxiety. What are your top 3 most common stressors? 


Tip 2: Use stress to your advantage


Stress can be a powerful motivator. By using stress to your advantage, you can channel it into productive energy and improve your performance. For example, if you have a deadline approaching, use the stress to focus your attention and get the work done. But be mindful not to let the stress get too overwhelming. Are you harnessing the upsides of stress to your advantage? 


Tip 3: Take breaks


It’s important to take breaks throughout the day to help manage stress levels. This can include taking a walk, doing a meditation, or even just stepping away from your work for a few minutes. By taking breaks, you can help prevent burnout and maintain a healthy level of stress. Make sure you’re also getting enough sleep.

I recently spoke to a group of urgent care workers. Part of the reason they weren’t taking regular breaks was because the nature of their job was back-to-back patients. But the other part of it was that they weren’t given regularly scheduled breaks, not even for lunch. If you find yourself in such a situation, coordinate with your team a time for everyone to get their mandatory break. Don’t leave it up to chance.


Tip 4: Develop coping strategies


Everyone copes with stress differently. It’s important to develop coping strategies that work for you. This can include exercise, mindfulness meditation, or talking to a friend or therapist. By having a toolbox of coping strategies, you can manage stress more effectively. But note that the effectiveness of a coping strategy may vary by individual. What helps you cope with stressful situations? 


Tip 5: Avoid overload


It’s important to recognize when you’re taking on too much and avoid overload. When you’re overloaded, you’re more likely to experience burnout and poor performance. We call this “overly-engaged.” It creates a frenetic relationship with your work. It’s crucial to set realistic goals and prioritize your most important tasks so you can avoid overload and maintain a healthy level of stress. This can include learning to delegate tasks, saying “no” to additional commitments, and avoiding multitasking. How can you minimize the overwhelm that comes from too much on your plate? 


Tip 6: Know your limits


Everyone has their own limits when it comes to stress. It’s important to know your limits and recognize when you need to take a step back. This can include taking a day off work, saying “no” to additional commitments, or seeking support from others. If you don’t set boundaries for yourself, you may end up feeling overwhelmed and burnt out.


Tip 7: Seek help if needed


If you’re experiencing chronic stress or burnout, it’s important to seek help. This can include talking to a therapist, seeking support from friends and family, or taking time off work. By addressing chronic stress early on, you can prevent it from becoming a more serious problem. Sometimes, seeking help from others is the best way to find a solution that is tailored to your needs and situation. A therapist, for example, can provide personalized advice and strategies for coping with stress, while friends and family can offer emotional support and a listening ear. Taking time off work can also be an effective way to recharge and gain perspective on the situation. Remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength and a proactive step towards improving your well-being.


Tip 8: Practice relaxation


Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery can help reduce stress levels and increase feelings of calmness and relaxation. These techniques can be practiced at any time and in any place, making them a convenient and effective way to manage stress.


Tip 9: Recharge your battery with sleep


An important factor in managing stress and finding your optimal level of performance is sleep. Sleep is essential for our physical and mental health, and a lack of sleep can lead to increased stress levels and decreased performance. It’s important to prioritize sleep and ensure that you’re getting enough quality sleep each night. This can include establishing a consistent sleep routine, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and creating a comfortable sleep environment.


Tip 10: Take a long-term approach to stress management


Remember that finding your optimal level of stress is a journey, and it may take time to find the right balance. It’s okay to make mistakes and experience setbacks along the way. The key is to stay committed to managing stress and finding what works best for you.




The Performance-Stress Curve is a useful tool for understanding the relationship between stress and performance. By finding your optimal level of stress, you can improve your performance and achieve your goals while avoiding burnout and exhaustion. Remember to recognize your stressors, use stress to your advantage, take breaks, develop coping strategies, avoid overload, know your limits, seek help if needed, practice relaxation techniques, prioritize sleep, and stay committed to managing stress. With these strategies, you can find your optimal level of stress and achieve peak performance.


Want me to speak to your organization about managing stress? Check out my keynote, “Make Stress Your Superpower.”


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Dr. Sharon Grossman, AKA the Burnout Doc, is a clinically trained psychologist and subject matter expert in burnout and mental health. Associations and Fortune 500 companies hire her to be their closing keynote speaker, to help their members and executives crack the code on burnout, and create custom-tailored solutions for recovery.
Over the past 20 years, Dr. Sharon has been helping high achievers who are struggling with anxiety, overwhelm, and burnout go from exhausted to extraordinary by better understanding how their brain works and how they can design and run their programming on purpose to live the kind of life they want to live. She is the author of several books on burnout and mindset and host of the Decode Your Burnout podcast. Through her speaking, training, and coaching, she helps organizations keep their top talent.