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  • Writer's pictureDan

TED Talks on Stress and Performance

Looking for something enlightening to dig into during quarantine? Wondering about the potential effects of long-term stress on your brain? Here are four great TED talks on how human performance changes under pressure. Ranging from 5 to 15 minutes each, these talks cover the biology, physiology, and neuroscience of how stress changes us, and how we can change our relationship to stress.

Hope you find something you enjoy!


Why We Choke Under Pressure -- And How to Avoid It.

Sian Beilock, PhD (15 mins)

Beilock is the author of Choke, holds PhDs in psychology and kinesiology, and is the president of Barnard College. In this excellent talk, she digs into the science of why our performance suffers under pressure. She covers a lot of ground and works through the results of several scientific studies, but the main take away for me was the importance of closing the gap between how we practice and how we perform by practicing to execute under pressure. There is also a great section on scholastic performance, on the effects of limiting beliefs in scholastic performance, and on how we can break down environmental and societal barriers and develop students who are more successful and happier.

How Stress Affects Your Brain

Madhumita Murgia (< 5 mins)

An animated TEDed talk by journalist Murgia on the effects of chronic stress on brain chemistry and wiring. This video has a good review of the action of the hypothalamus-pituitary axis--the system responsible for the majority of the brain's response to stressful events--as well as the myriad effects of the hormone cortisol in both short bursts (acute stress) and long-standing exposure (chronic stress) on your brain and your body. As Murgia describes, chronic stress can decrease connections between neurons throughout the brain, and alter the production of new neurons in brain areas related to memory and learning, among other effects. The video ends with a brief overview of the positive, stress-countering effects of meditation and exercise.

How to Make Stress Your Friend

Kelly McGonigal, PhD (14 mins)

Author of The Upside of Stress, PhD psychologist, and lecturer at Stanford University, McGonigal discusses the links between our beliefs about stress and our response to it--specifically, changing how we think about stress (from a disaster to a challenge) can mitigate the harmful effects of stress other talks in this series discuss. As a bouns, McGonigal talks about the often under-appreciated role of Oxytocin in the stress response. This talk is like a bite-sized version of her excellent book, which I highly recommend

How to Stay Calm Under Pressure

Noa Kageyama / Pen-Pen Chen (< 5 min)

Another animated TEDed talk, this time narrated by Kageyama and illustrated by Chen and focused on choking under pressure and how, exactly, being nervous effects performance. Covers a lot of the same ground as Beilock, but from a slightly different angle. Kageyama and Chen describe two distinct theories for how performance is linked to anxiety, "distraction theory," and "explicit monitoring theory." As antidotes to choking, Kageyama and Chen highlight the need to practice under stressful conditions, develop a pre-performance routine, and focus on the end goal as opposed to the mechanics of an individual sub-process.


What are other great talks you've seen about the role of stressful circumstances in our lives and work? Comment below or reach out here to let us know.

Good luck out there!

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