Stress, exhaustion and poor performance

Are there lessons from top performing athletes and yogis that we can apply to combat work stress and improve performance?

stress impacts performance

If there is one quality we seek in ourselves and in our organisations it’s high sustained performance. Yet, according to Reventure Australia, “more than half of all Australian workers agree, increasing change and complexity at work are leading to job dissatisfaction and more frequent high levels of stress at work.”1  Dr Linda Friedland is a medical doctor, best-selling author and international keynote speaker who is passionate about executive and corporate health. She explains that “most stress is good for us. It drives us, it’s good for our passion and it helps us triumph. It’s directly proportional to our performance but without disciplined rest, we reach a peak and fall off the curve.” Sound familiar?

Compare the elite athlete with the elite executive.

Both strive for excellence, but their approach is quite different.

In the workplace, high performing individuals don’t necessarily think of themselves as ‘athletes’. Yet, like an athlete, they are either expecting, or are expected, to perform at the top of their game. Unlike sports athletes though, they are not training for a just few major events a year. Most days they are pushing their limits, which results is high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.  Cortisol is the “I’m on” chemical which can be useful for bouts of maximum output, but not good for long term health.

There is a balance of at least three elements incorporated into every elite athlete’s training program. Practice, or training, make up the bulk of the effort, with short and intense periods of maximum performance (and stress, and cell damage!). The third element and equally important, is recovery time. During recovery your cortisol levels go down. This allows healing and strengthening to happen both physically and neurologically. It’s the essential factor that sets us up to repeat the cycle of effort at an even higher level. Practice, peak performance and recovery equals improvement over the longer term.

And what about yoga?

In yoga we are taught similar principles. The asana (the poses/work) stretches us and sets us up for healing and growth. Our strength and flexibility only comes when we cease the effort and rest. This is known in yoga as savasana, or dead body pose.

Yogis and athletes understand this principle and incorporate it into their training program to achieve the ultimate performance.

The question is: Could you improve your performance by incorporating higher quality recovery periods?

Going forward:

So, if your answer is teetering towards yes, then some great recovery options to consider are:

  • Non-competitive exercise like yoga

  • Meditation

  • Time in nature

  • Power naps

  • Slow breathing

  • Mellow music, or the ultimate in physical and mental recovery…

  • Floatation therapy, or Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique (R.E.S.T.)

During floatation therapy all external stimuli are removed, so you only have your heart beat and breath for company. Sounds like a meditator’s dream? Research has shown that even short periods of using R.E.S.T. significantly reduces cortisol levels and the benefits increase if you float on a regular basis.2

Regardless of how you choose to unwind, the point here is that is a vital aspect of feeling great, performing at your best when you need to, and growing further into your potential. We look forward to seeing you ‘training’ in the float room soon.

Note: If you’re interested in the concept of the ‘corporate athlete’ you may like to read:
Get in the Zone by Colin Guthrie
The Missing Piece in the Life Cycle of the Modern Executive
1. Reventure Australia is a think tank that conducts research and stimulates public debate about workplace matters.
Photo by Timon Studler (Unsplash)