How to Reorient Stress and Anxiety Towards Productivity

It starts slowly. Increased heart rate. Dry mouth. A drop of sweat rolls slowly from temple to cheek. And then boo . Punch to the stomach. Stress. This is inevitable in life. Yet many of us see it as something we cannot control. Or worse, something that we must bury and ignore.

This post originally appeared on the Crew blog .

Keep Calm and Carry On might work for T-shirts and tote bags, but what about real life advice? It’s as good as sticking your head in the sand.

Stress affects us in different ways, at different times, but one of the most common situations we all face is right before a big performance. Whether it’s talking with your boss, karaoke, or playing sports. Stress before a show is a real thing. And it kills our ability to act.

But what if there were ways to tune our brains to use stress to our advantage? Take these feelings of fear and anxiety and turn them into energy, excitement, and focus? Focus on our own version of Popeye’s spinach? It looks like a dream. But thanks to new research into how our brains deal with stress, this shouldn’t be the case.

How our brains deal with stress (and how to teach it to use stress to your advantage)

When our brains are stressed, it releases a chemical called norepinephrine.

Norepinephrine is one of these strange chemicals that is both amazing and terrible at the same time. In the brain, it increases arousal and alertness, promotes alertness, improves memory formation and recovery, and focuses attention; simultaneously increasing anxiety and anxiety.

We don’t work well with too much or too low levels of this chemical, but according to Ian Robertson, a cognitive neuroscientist at Trinity College Dublin and author of the forthcoming book The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper “ :

“There is a sweet spot where, if you only have the right amount, the goldilocks zone of norepinephrine, which acts as the best brain tuner.”

In fact, norepinephrine helps the different areas communicate unhindered and also creates new neural connections.

This means that as long as we find ways to control and deal with stress emotionally, it can actually be an incredible way to improve brain function, increase creativity, and ultimately (and somewhat ironically) become happier, less anxious. and less depressed. But the catch is: How can we change the way we deal with stressful situations so that we can take advantage of them instead of crippling us with anxiety?

Start by rethinking the situation

Many of the symptoms of anxiety and stress — dry mouth, increased heart rate — are similar to agitation. Research has shown that when people find themselves in stressful situations, such as public speaking or karaoke, persuading themselves to calm down can backfire. Instead, those who rethink the situation as exciting and ride the stress wave are better prepared to deal with it.

When we feel anxious right before a meeting or before talking to someone we respect, that anxiety can drain working memory, reduce self-confidence, and harm our overall productivity.

And knowing that this is our normal reaction makes the situation even worse. The anticipation of anxiety makes you think about the usual counterbalance: take it easy.

But when Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, began to study how we respond to the idea of ​​stress, she found that people who perceived their anxiety as excitement performed better than those who tried to bury it with calmness.

Both stress and arousal are characterized by high levels of arousal and low feelings of control.

Treat stress as a challenge, not a burden.

Another way of looking at it as “growing” or “fixed” thinking is the idea, proposed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck , which basically means that those who believe they can change do.

With the fixed mindset, you believe that what happens to you, or how you feel, cannot be changed. This fatalistic approach prevents you from changing your view of the situation.

On the other hand, people with a growth mindset see potential failure as a chance to learn something. They can turn stress into excitement and find a middle ground in which stress really improves performance.

Think of comedians or entertainers who are anxious if they don’t feel the “edge” of anxiety before performing. Or Tiger Woods, who said that if he doesn’t worry before the match, then he knows that he will be bad. With the right mindset, stress can increase productivity.

Create a new track for your mind

We’ve all faced situations where negative and unproductive thoughts, stress and anxiety simply won’t leave us alone.

Each “thought” is actually a complex pattern of activity between proteins and chemicals, gene expression and neural connections in our brains. And the more thoughts we have, the stronger this mental connection becomes. Neuroscientist Alex Korb describes it as a “ski run in the snow” :

“The more you ski down one trail, the easier it is to follow it rather than the other.”

As with the fixed mindset, the more you respond to stress with anxiety, self-doubt, and fear, the more likely you are to feel the same way in a similar situation. But psychologists have found a solution. This is called cognitive reappraisal.

Cognitive reappraisal is not about getting rid of negative thoughts (which is almost impossible). It’s not about turning false negative thoughts into false positive ones. The goal is to take a step back and substantiate your thoughts with reality.

Here’s how Horia Jazayeri, a licensed family therapist, explained in the Wall Street Journal :

“I tell clients to think like a scientist. You use your observations and descriptions about yourself without judgment, observing and describing facts. “

So, instead of letting your negative self-doubt grow, you need to be aware of when you are walking this negative path and stop.

Writer Elizabeth Bernstein suggests recording our thoughts and identifying exactly what triggered them: “My boss sent me an email to call him, and I began to worry that he hated my job and I would be fired.”

Put those thoughts out of your head on paper, and then put on your lab coat. Challenge your assumptions like a scientist challenges a hypothesis.

Is your job bad?

Will you get fired because of this?

Chances are, when you really start thinking about it, you will have no reason to maintain your original feelings. But don’t stop there. Look for evidence to the contrary. What are your successes? Have you recently been promoted?

Write down anything that conflicts with your self-doubt. Writing strengthens your memory, and the more you try to rethink your doubt of confidence, the more you can stray from the ski course you took.

What if it doesn’t work? Take it to the extreme.

Do you think your job is bad? Tell yourself this is the worst. Tell yourself that there has never been a worse writer / designer / developer than you, and that you are lucky that they don’t throw you into the sea just to make the world a better place.

“You want to laugh,” explains Steve Orma, clinical psychologist and author of Stop Worrying and Go to Sleep . Laughter will make you feel better and will help emphasize the absurdity of your negative thoughts.

If you want to get in shape, you need more than one monstrous workout in the gym. And your brain is no different. It takes time to learn how to rethink the way you deal with situations and turn stress and self-doubt into Red Bull for your productivity. But actually not that much.

According to The Wall Street Journal , a 2014 study by Behavior Research and Therapy found that people who practiced cognitive reappraisal were able to significantly reduce their negative emotions in just 16 weeks. Four months to get better, happier, and more productive. And all it takes is a little perspective.

How To Turn Stress And Anxiety Into Productivity | Crew


Leave a Reply