The Relationship between Performance, Challenge, Stress and Burn-out



This is a slightly adapted version of Hans Selye's stress model, where the definition of


Stress is a demand made upon the adaptive capacities of the mind and body

...in other words, stress is the difference between the level of perceived challenge and the capacity we feel we have to deal with our challenges...so it's a very individual thing.


The model shows that...


With no or little challenge, we're bored. We're in the 'rust-out' zone.

We don't feel like our capacity is being used and our performance is sub-optimal as a result.

We need an element of challenge to get us going.


As the level of challenge increases, performance increases.

We 'rise to the challenge'. We feel like our capacity is being utilised and that feels good.


There's an optimum range of challenge - the area around the top of the curve, where performance is at its peak. The level of challenge is higher but still feels within our capacity.

This is when we're 'really cooking'.

But it's a fine line...


...past that top point on the curve, the level of challenge begins to outstrip our mental and physical capacity and our performance begins to drop.

We begin to 'feel stressed' in the way we normally use the word and our automatic stress responses kick in.


As more challenge is added, we begin to feel like there is increasingly too much challenge for our capacity. We get more and more stressed which in itself impairs our capacity and makes the challenges we're facing harder. Our performance continues to decline.

We are becoming exhausted and eventually hit the point of no return.

The slippery slope.


We 'burn-out' and we crash. Unable to perform at all.


It's common to think that burn-out happens suddenly. We suddenly break down and wonder what happened.


But this graph shows it's a gradual process that sneaks up on you.


It's the 'final straw that breaks the camel's back' that leads to the crash.


...and that's why it's so dangerous.


One minute, we can be really enjoying the challenge, feeling a great sense of achievement, and perhaps justifying some long hours at work.


And then it begins to feel a bit much.


We start telling ourselves it'll be OK, we'll cope, it'll pass.


We just have to get through the next bit/get over the next hurdle.


But all the time, we're getting closer and closer to the point of no return.

And then 'all of a sudden' we're no use to anyone. Least of all ourselves.


The other point to remember is that

Our capacity is shared across all the areas of our lives

We don't have separate capacities for work and life for example...and even fun things like a big weekend with less sleep than normal, can diminish our capacity.

So, if you are dealing with lots of challenges at work, you'll have less capacity to deal with any challenges in your home life and vice versa.


Learn what your signs of stress are and take action when you spot them


Protect yourself from burn-out.


Find ways to manage your stress


Book a free call if you want to explore how coaching can help with the challenge-performance-stress equation.


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