The idea that a little stress can boost performance is refuted by Canadian neuroscientists. Stress, even mild, impairs executive functions, such as self-control, concentration, memory, and the ability to solve problems.
- Given the high level of stress that most people are currently experiencing, it is important to be patient.
- Feeling stressed because you feel ashamed or embarrassed, or worried about doing well in the eyes of others, doesn’t seem conducive to having executive functions at their best.
- The researchers share their advice for coping with stress: take the time, breathe and play sports, in particular.
“There’s this idea that for difficult cognitive tasks, you’ll do better if you’re a little stressed rather than calm.”, advances neuroscientist Adele Diamond, professor of neuroscience in the department of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Author of the study published on October 30 in the journal Cerebral Cortex, she refutes this idea. “Our study found that stress, even if it’s really mild, is actually not good for most people and hurts the performance of their executive functions.she continues. A positive effect of stress is only true for a subset of people and even then only if extremely mild.”
Stress does not improve performance
The researchers emphasize that the results of their study are important, especially in the current health crisis. “Given the high level of stress that most people are currently experiencing, it is important that parents, educators and employers pay particular attention to being patient.says Adele Diamond. It’s also important to recognize that many people may not be experiencing the best self-control or logical reasoning right now due to high stress levels, and we should give ourselves some breathing room..”
The researchers conducted their tests on 140 young adults, placed in a state of mild stress. They asked them to take computerized cognitive tests while a male and female staff member stood behind them and watched their performance. The team of scientists found that the participants’ executive functions were impaired. While there is a subset of people with a specific form of a gene whose executive functions improved, most volunteers found no benefit from this stress which impaired their self-control, concentration, memory and ability to solve problems.
Tips for reducing stress
“Feeling stressed because you feel ashamed or embarrassed, or worried about doing well in the eyes of others, doesn’t seem to be conducive to having executive functions at their best for most people most of the time.observes Adele Diamond. If you want people to be able to solve problems, use self-control, or reason logically, then you probably want to minimize their stress..”
To reduce stress levels, researchers outline some strategies. They advise taking deep breaths, spending time in nature, focusing on the present moment instead of worrying about the future or regretting the past. They also find that connecting with others, if only via Zoom or Facetime, is beneficial. Finally, they point to exercise in all its forms, including mindfulness practices such as martial art, tai chi or yoga, and time spent with animals as solutions to reduce stress and improve concentration and self control.