We are all too familiar with the symptoms of too much stress in our lives.  It seems that there is always more to do, and it is easy to feel that you are constantly falling behind as more and more work and responsibilities pile up.

Therefore, we focus on stress-reducing activities (as we should) to bring us back to a more stable and centered state.

But how often do we take the time to reflect on whether we have too little stress in our lives?

Seems like a weird concept, doesn’t it?

Wouldn’t too little to no stress be the ideal?

Well, what if I told you that the symptoms of too much stress are the same as too little stress


Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a George Mason University Coaching Conference.  The guest speaker, Jane Maliszewski, presented on some of the research around brain science and coaching – specifically around what she called the ‘Goldilocks Curve’.

The ‘Goldilocks Curve’ itself is nothing fancy – just picture one half of the famous McDonald’s golden arches.  The lower left portion of the arch depicts too little stress, the lower right portion of the arch depicts too much stress, and you guessed it – the top of the arch represents the ‘just right’ level of stress.

Two things really hit home for me – first, that stress is not by its nature a bad thing.  It’s something I knew to be true, and hearing about it during the talk reinforced the importance of and place that stress plays in our lives.

To put things in perspective, having no stress in your life means your dead. Not something any of us want to strive towards.

We are constantly stressing our mind, body and spirit on a daily basis in varying degrees whether we are working out, learning something new, simply having a conversation, or walking from one place to another.

The second thing that blew my mind is actually what inspired me to write this post so that I can share it with all of you.

The presentation went on to highlight some of the symptoms of too much stress, something Jane referred to as being in a state of Functional Impairment.  Here are a few of those symptoms:

  • Foggy Thinking
  • Poor Impulse Control
  • Poor Decision Making
  • Poor Memory
  • Lack of Empathy

Nothing earth-shattering here.  It’s definitely what I’ve experienced myself and would come to expect from being spread too thin or when overwhelmed with the stresses of life.

She then went on to highlight the symptoms of too little stress:

  • Foggy Thinking
  • Poor Impulse Control
  • Poor Decision Making
  • Poor Memory
  • Lack of Empathy

The same symptoms…

As I reflected on this information, and thought about times in my life when I wasn’t being challenged, it made perfect sense.

Can you think back to a time when you were bored, not being challenged or coasting through something?  Were you as sharp or disciplined compared to times when you were challenged and engaged?

I would venture to guess the answer is ‘no’.  It certainly was for me.

I realize some may be brushing off this information – I mean how often are we really under too little stress?

Well, I think we should absolutely explore the answer to that question!

If the symptoms are the same, are you totally clear that what you are feeling is actually too much stress?  Or is it actually too little?

Let’s take a step back and talk about what the ‘just right’ amount of stress can look like to put his conversation in perspective.

MMMMmmm… This Bowl of Stress is Just Right!

Now that we have a snapshot of what too much and too little stress look like, let’s paint a picture of what a more ideal level of stress can look like – something the speaker referred to as being in a state of High Level Functioning.

These attributes included:

  • Goal Direction
  • Ability to Handle Abstract Concepts
  • Memory Encoding and Retrieval / Learn New Information & Recall
  • Good Decision Making
  • Delaying Gratification
  • Understanding What Others are Thinking / Empathy

Are there times in your life when you remember yourself aligning to the attributes above?

What were you doing at that time?  How were you being challenged?  Were you feeling stressed in the traditional sense? Or were you closer to a state of control and flow?

It is important to be able to refer back to times in our lives when we found ourselves in these various states.  It allows us to see trends and begin to understand commonalities that either brought us to a state of too much / too little stress or to our optimum level of stress and therefore performance.

Given the nature of the presentation, coaching would be a powerful tool to help someone navigate this arch of stress to begin to identify what is just right for them.  However, since I can’t necessarily do that through a blog post, I wanted to pose a series of questions that you can reflect on to begin to shape what too much / too little / just enough stress looks like in your life.

So here you go:

When you are performing at your best, how would you describe your work-life balance?  What are you doing and just as important, what aren’t you doing?

When you find yourself in a state of high stress, how does your feeling of overwhelm show up? (i.e. tightness in your chest, inability to think clearly, easily aggravated, etc.)

When you find yourself in a state of low / not enough stress, what do you feel is missing?  What would make you feel more engaged and energized?

What would an ideal day look like for you?

Think of the last time you were feeling high stress – how did you know you were moving towards that state?  What can you do the next time you begin feeling that way to move back towards your ideal state of stress?

There are just a few questions to get the gears turning in your head.  What is critically important is that we first be able to identify where we fall on this arch, and then determine how we got there.  Once we have those pieces of the equation we can finally begin to craft actions to help us get back to our unique and ideal state of stress.

Discussion Question: Think about your life over the past month, how would you rate yourself on the scale of too little, just enough or too much stress?  What is one action you can take to move yourself to your optimal state of ‘just enough’ stress and optimal performance?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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