My research has shown that not all stress is bad, but how people react to stressful situations — psychologically and physiologically — can affect their decision making, creativity, and negotiations, as well as their long-term health.
I distinguish between two qualitatively different physiological stress responses: fluid and constructive. In the fluid stress response (i.e., challenge), the heart beats fast but efficiently because the arteries are dilated, which facilitates blood flow through the body. This cardiovascular pattern is characteristic of athletes in a game, performers on stage, and programmers coding “in the zone.” Socially, this response makes people more open and approach oriented. In the constrictive stress response (i.e., threat), the heart pumps hard and fast but the arteries are constricted, which limits oxygenation and can heighten blood pressure. This pattern is accompanied by the release of the hormone cortisol and feelings of tension and anxiety. Accordingly, it induces social reticence and withdrawal.
My work has uncovered conditions that trigger each type of stress response, and I have tested their effects on performance. I have also designed practical interventions to help individuals manage stress and optimize performance, health, and wellbeing.