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Stress Management: Find your Optimum Zone

Stress Management: Find Your Optimum Zone

Stress Management: Find Your Optimum Zone

The first law of survival is: Know your enemy!

If you think that stress is your enemy then you need to know something more about stress.

The first person to do any serious study of stress was Hans Seyle, who was an Austrian-Canadian scientist. He developed a model that describes the three elements of the stress response. He gave the model the rather imposing name of, "The General adaptation syndrome", or G.A.S.

Three elements of all stress

Whenever you are in a stress situation, then you need to remember that all stresses have three component parts.

  1. Intensity of the stress.
  2. Duration of the stress.
  3. Frequency of the stress.

Using running as a metaphor for any stress:


Intensity is a measure of the momentary effort imposed. The intensity refers to the degree of the load. For example, in running, the intensity of the run would be the PACE at which you run, or if you were running up a hill or downhill. Uphill fast pace is more intense than downhill slow pace.

Intensity is a measure of the momentary effort imposed.


Duration refers to the length of time you impose the stress, (or the stress is imposed upon you) in any one session. A five-hour run is more taxing than a five minute run.


Frequency refers to the number of times you impose the stress on yourself, (or the stress is imposed upon you,) in a given period of time.

In our running example, Frequency is the number of times, per week, you run: three, four or seven times per week.

Now follows my main point:

Intensity and duration (plus frequency) are mutually exclusive


  1. You CAN handle intense stress, IF - AND ONLY IF - you restrict the duration and frequency of the stressor.
  2. You CAN stress yourself every day for hours, IF - AND ONLY IF - you restrict the INTENSITY of the stress imposed.
  3. You cannot stand, frequent, long duration exposure to high intensity stress.

Maybe with training, you can run a 26-mile marathon.
And, with training, you could sprint flat-out for 100 metres; Usain Bolt style.
But you cannot sprint, flat out, for 26 miles.
Don't feel bad about it.
Nobody can sprint for 26 miles.
And it is a mistake even to try.

If you want to handle high intensity stress, then you must moderate the duration and the frequency.

Failure to moderate the duration and frequency of the imposition of high intensity stress will cause a collapse of the system, or person, or team.

You can work intensely for short periods

Or you can work moderately for longer periods.

But nobody can work intensely, frequently, for long periods.

Anyone who does will experience exhaustion.

The perfect balance

Think of three intersecting circles.

  • One represents intensity of effort.
  • Two represents the duration of the effort.
  • Three represents the frequency of the effort.

Then the intersection of the three circles represents the Perfect balance between the three elements.

There exists a perfect balance of intensity, duration, and frequency of effort.

This intersection we call the Optimum zone.

The optimum zone

The optimum zone is the zone you need to find in your life.

You need some stress. Life without stress is meaningless.

A runner needs to run.
A lifter needs to lift.
A writer needs to write.
A worker needs to work.
A manager needs to manage.

Don't look for a life devoid of stress.

Stress is a stimulus.

Stress is good.

Stress is the stimulus for an adaptive response.

Stress is good because it drives us to make progressive changes in mind, in body and in circumstances.

But overstress is not good.

Coming outside of the optimum zone is not good.

There are three ways to step outside the optimum zone:

  1. Too much intensity. You are pushing too hard. You are running flat out and you try to run faster. Or, you put too much weight on the barbell and something snaps!
  2. Too much frequency. You run every day. And it is okay for a while. But after sixteen days of working hard every day, something snaps and you are laid up for months.
  3. Too much duration. You run too far. You start running at 6.30am and you are still running at 10pm. This is overdosing on stress.

More is not better.

If some stress is good, MORE is NOT better.

Many people fall for the "MORE IS BETTER" logical fallacy.

They figure that if more money is better than less, then it is self-evident that:
More training must be better than less
More work is better than less
More chocolate is better than less.

But the truth is.....

More is NOT necessarily better

  • If some stress is good, more is not necessarily better.
  • If some running is good, more is not necessarily better.
  • If some weight on the barbell is good, more is not necessarily better.
  • If some alcohol and chocolate is good, then more is not necessarily better.

Instead of "more is better" think in terms of the "optimum zone"

You need to balance intensity, duration and frequency.

Find the optimum zone for chocolate, work, rest, sleep and study.

Then you will have understood stress and you can make it work for you, not against you.

When you keep it confined to the optimum zone, then stress is good.

How good are you at managing your stress?

If you are exposed to a limited amount of stress, then stress can be very beneficial, because it can trigger an adaptive response. (Strength can come through Struggle!)

But too much work, stress and struggle can be bad for you, because they can wear you down.

Whilst in stressful situations, it is important to be able to maintain your inner-strength and emotional balance.

With that in mind, try this interesting questionnaire and discover exactly how good you are at dealing with stress.

Answer the following 20-point questionnaire; submit your answers and we will immediately send you back your results and your score (out of 100).

Stress Questionnaire

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Further Reading in Stress Management

  • Top tips for stress management
    Ten top tips for stress management What is "Stress"? In our context, stress can be defined as: "A mental and physiological reaction to work pressures and the meanings that you give to them" What is "Stress management"? "Stress management" is the art of orchestrating: The intensity, duration and frequency of stressors...
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  • Is Stress Bad For You?
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  • Coping With Stress
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