Are you stressed?

Most often when we hear this question it's coming from a concerned loved one or health professional, and the clear motivation for asking it is worry about your mental and physical health. Here's a related question we all hear much less:

Are you stressed enough?

That's what Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino asked on the HBR blogs recently. Stress, she argues in the surprising piece, isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, having too little in your life can keep you from reaching peak performance.

Just like other researchers in the field, such as Stanford University health psychologist Kelly McGonigal (whose excellent TED talk I've covered here on before), Gino points out that stress is simply mental and physiological arousal. There's nothing inherently wrong with it and in the right situations, such as particularly demanding tasks, a healthy dose of stress can actually boost performance.

On the other hand, we might think of a zen-like lack of stress as an ideal state, but according to science, if you have too little stress in your life, it's a good bet you struggle to stay engaged and excited at work. Another word for the complete absence of psychological arousal is boredom.

The Goldilocks Principle of Stress

The bottom line is that, as in many areas in life, moderation is key. Like Goldilocks facing those three bowls of porridge, you need to aim to find a balance that's not to hot and not too cold, but just right.

So how do you know if you've hit this sweet spot? Gino's fascinating post offers a quick quiz to help readers find out. By answering ten simple multiple choice questions about how you've felt over the last month -- questions like 'How often have you felt unable to control the important things in your life?' -- you can generate a score that indicates exactly where you fall on the stress scale.

Most people pass with flying colors, Gino writes (a reassuring fact that might surprise quite a few harried professionals). But for those who fall outside the ideal range, a high score indicates that your stress is compromising your performance, while a very low one suggests it's time to take on more challenges. Check it out to see where you fall on the scale and to read Gino's tips for how to take action is you discover you are living and working far from the stress sweet spot.

How did you do on the quiz?