September 01, 2021

Stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Manage yours like a pro!

Stress is our physiological response to change. The increased heart rate, tightening in the stomach, the lightheaded sensation — our distant ancestors relied on these cues to recognize potential threats. In other words, stress evolved as a way for our bodies and minds to tell us, “Be careful.”

Our hunter-gatherer days are long behind us, and the stressors you face on a day-to-day basis would be, to put it mildly, totally unrecognizable to those prehistoric humans. Our lives have changed enormously, but stress, and the sense of danger that comes with it, hasn’t. It’s not surprising that stress can feel overwhelming or out of control.

In your life at work, stress happens. No matter who you are and where you work, you’re going to experience stress. If you learn to keep it in check and channel its energy productively, it’ll become one more tool at your disposal.

Reframe stressors.

It might sound counterintuitive, but some stress can help you meet your goals and drive performance.

The key to harnessing the benefits of work-related stress is to reframe a task, challenge, or obstacle, from a threat to an opportunity.

“Threat” may sound like a strong word for many of the stressors in your work life, but if you think about why something is causing you stress, you’ll probably find that it is, in fact, threatening you in some way:

  • An imbalanced workload is a “threat” to your free time.
  • An intimidating project that keeps you up at night might feel “threatening” to your sense of your own skills and abilities.
  • A conflict with a coworker can be a “threat” to your social status or comfort in the workpllace.

If you’re having an overwhelming stress response, it’s because, whether you realize it or not, you’re thinking of it as a threat. But any of the examples we gave can also be opportunities:

  • An imbalanced workload is an opportunity to introduce new structure into your role.
  • An intimidating project is an opportunity to learn something new.
  • A conflict with a coworker is an opportunity to repair and strengthen a relationship.

Maybe that sounds a little too simplistic, and that’s okay! A reframe from threat to opportunity is just a starting place for keeping stress in check.

Name your strengths.

Can you identify your personal and professional strengths? If so, write down three of them right now, and be specific! (We’ll give you a minute…)

If you’re not so sure what your strengths are, there are a few ways to find out. Keep an ear open for positive feedback that comes your way. What are the patterns? In what ways do you consistently excel? Also look to your own workflow: when are you the most “in the zone?” What seems to come most easily to you?

Knowing your strengths is vital, because they’re what will get you through periods of stress. Be ready to call on them when you need them! Strengths you may find particularly useful for overcoming a stressful situation include, but are not at all limited to:

  • Persuasion
  • Adaptability
  • Decisiveness
  • Self-motivation
  • Optimism
  • Solution-oriented mindset
  • Humor
  • Ability to “keep calm”

Know your stress.

Stress looks different for everyone. Understanding what it looks like for you is essential to putting yourself into that opportunity mindset and calling on your strengths.

  1. What are your triggers? What causes the most stress or anxiety in your life at work? Notice how certain situations make you feel. Is there a certain task, meeting, or even a person who you have a stress reaction to?
  2. How do you react? We have three instinctive reactions to stress: fight, flight, and freeze. What’s your go-to? Is it helpful or harmful? What does it look like when it’s to an appropriate degree? What about when it’s an overreaction?
  3. How do you perform under stress? Make note of your productivity under different kinds of stress. Are there certain circumstances where stress drives greater performance? If you know what those are, you may even be able to replicate that level of stress to propel yourself.

Summary

Some stress can actually be beneficial. The key is balance. Know yourself: if you’re responding to stress unproductively, take action.

If you’re up to the challenge of turning stress into a motivator, you stand to change your life at work for the better.

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