“I work more productively under stress” is a phrase used by many, but understood by few. Why, when we feel stressed, do we often get more done? The answer may have something to do with adrenaline, “the fight or flight hormone” produced by the adrenal glands after the body receives a message from the brain that a stressful situation has presented itself. Famously, the hormone gives the body a large surge of energy, meaning that we are able to undertake almost superhuman acts in emergency situations. Does this mean stress is positive, because we become more productive? Or does stress have negative impacts on our mental and physical health, making us less productive? We asked the experts to offer up some answers.



Neil Shah

founder of The Stress Management Society, consultant in NLP and hypnotherapy and award-winning specialist in behavioural change, stress management, well-being, and neuro linguistic programming

Rather than thinking of stress as a good or a bad thing, think of it more as stress used appropriately or inappropriately. Stress is simply a physical response, developed to equip you to do whatever is necessary, either fight your way out of dancer or remove yourself from the cause of stress. Without this physical response, our species would have become extinct a long time ago.

In modern life, there are examples of how we can use that stress constructively such as in an emergency situation, when driving and even when running for a bus/train. Often, however, stress is a counterproductive response.

When in the state of stress the body automatically creates hormones such as adrenaline. This hormone increases the heart rate, delivering more oxygen and blood surge to power important muscles and gives you a surge of energy which can help focus your mind. So, in certain situations a degree of stress can be useful to focus and sharpen our minds so that we achieve our goals and objectives.

The performance zone is the zone to drive optimal mental, physical and emotional performance – whether applied to sports, work or even driving. Above the performance zone and edging towards burnout we will struggle – problem solving, lateral thinking and creative thinking skills diminish. We are unable to think clearly and make good decisions, and can become reactive, angry and sometime even aggressive. Below the performance zone we may find ourselves unable to motivate ourselves, energy and enthusiasm will be low and we will be bored sluggish and lethargic. The aim is to understand your performance zone, optimise your stress levels and maintain yourself in that space.

The main cause of stress in the US? Money.


of Americans reported feeling stressed about money at least some of the time in the past month


said that they experienced extreme stress about money in the past month


of Americans said that money is a somewhat or very significant source of stress at all times, but especially for parents (77%), millennials (75%), and Gen Xers (76%)


Dr. Archibald Hart

author, psychologist, senior professor of psychology, board certified diplomate fellow in psychopharmacology, biofeedback practitioner

Yes, stress and adrenaline do make you work faster, but it also increases many stress related disorders. e.g. blood pressure could be higher.  

It can also prevent healthy sleep patterns, and this can have even more damaging consequences.



David F. Swink

Co-founder of training development firm Strategic Interactions, Inc (trained gov. agencies, the US Senate, the CIA, the US Secret Service), former director of the National Institute of Mental Health training program in psychodrama and group psychotherapy at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, and former president of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama

First, let’s separate stress from adrenaline. Adrenaline is one of several hormones that is secreted when you are under stress.  Stress generally occurs when your fight or flight system is activated and your brain prepares you to deal with a perceived threat.  The fight or flight response releases the same chemicals whether a snake crosses the path in front of you or you are up against an important work deadline.   

The impact of stress on performance is well documented. The Yerkes-Dodson law that states that low levels of stress generally results in boredom and feeling unchallenged. Even if a task is of great importance, in the absence of an appropriate level of stress, attention and concentration to perform the task are significantly low. On the other hand, extreme levels of stress produces low performance levels due to negative feelings resulting from overwhelming stress. However, there’s a region called the “area of best performance." In this region, moderate stress that is well managed leads to the highest level of performance.

What is perceived as stressful is somewhat dependent on your personality type. Some people find that stress produced by procrastinating is a motivator, while a different personality type might find the thought of waiting until the last minute to finish a project totally paralyzing.

So, stress can make you work faster (and smarter) up to a point after which you still may work faster for awhile but with more mistakes and eventually exhaustion and burnout.

Proportion of employees claiming high levels of workplace stress:

US: 30%

UK: 34%

ILLUSTRATION:  Nikita Treptsov
Additional sources: The American Psychological Association, Forbes