How do we know when we are stressing out?

A lot of you would be familiar with the Yerkes Dodson law which “demonstrates an empirical relationship between arousal and performance. It dictates that performance increases with cognitive arousal, but only to a certain point: when levels of arousal become too high, performance will decrease.”  (Wikipedia 2018)

You can find the original Yerkes Dodson paper referenced below (Yerkes & Dodson 1908).

Below we have referenced a diagrammatic representation of this law from Diamond (et al. 2007).

If we draw an imaginary line vertically down the centre of the solid line bell curve, we can conclude that we would want to be on the left side and not the right. If we want to stay on the left hand side we also don’t want to be at peak arousal and performance all the time, as this would be unsustainable and could possibly result in a physical and mental break down. So we want to stay on the left and move up and down the slope to achieve a ‘perform then rest’ sequence. The techniques for moving from ‘perform to rest’ also know as moving from a state of stress to homeostasis, are personal and vast – just Google stress relief and you will find an abundance of ideas.

Some fundamental techniques we should master according to openfit (2018) are:

  • Get more sleep
  • Do more cardio
  • Stress less: regular yoga, stretching, deep breathing, meditation
  • Be flexible with your work outs

However, some for some of us don’t know when we are over doing it and stressing out. That’s when heart rate variability analysis comes in.  By analysing our HRV consistently over a period we can readily identify when we need to slow down or have the capacity to do more.

We of course don’t have to calculate this ourselves, we can use apps from EliteHRV, HRV4Training, ithlete to help us. These apps will give us colour coded trends and scores and after some familiarisation we can put the appropriate strategies in place to rectify any downward trends.


Diamond, DM, Campbell, AM, Park, CR, Halonen, J & Zoladz, PR 2007, ‘The Temporal Dynamics Model of Emotional Memory Processing: A Synthesis on the Neurobiological Basis of Stress-Induced Amnesia, Flashbulb and Traumatic Memories, and the Yerkes-Dodson Law’, Neural Plasticity, vol. 2007, no. 2007, p. 3.

openfit 2018, What Is Heart Rate Variability and How Do You Measure It? | Openfit, viewed <>.

Wikipedia 2018, Yerkes–Dodson law – Wikipedia, viewed <>.

Yerkes, RM & Dodson, JD 1908, ‘The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit‐formation’, Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, vol. 18, no. 5, pp. 459-482.

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