Managing stress: How to use it to become more productive

Each of us experiences various levels of stress on a daily basis; it happens that we have to manage stress at work, for issues that arise when managing and developing a business, or for personal situations that sometimes overwhelm us.

Stress is one of those things that, if left unaddressed, tends to cause further problems. It can affect sleep, decreasing our performance; if we don’t find a way to manage the stress, the situation can worsen.

Just observing how bad stress is would be too banal and simplistic an approach.

In fact, our relationship with stress is much more complex: the point is not just knowing how to overcome it; it is also about knowing how to understand and manage stress, using it to become more productive.

What are the causes of stress?

How to manage stress

According to psychologist Walter Cannon, creator of the concept known as the “fight or flight” reaction, the primary function of stress would be to enable survival.

Often, stress is a useful reaction to challenges or threats: it makes us mentally and physically ready to face them. It affects our brain at a chemical level, raising the level of attention, intensifying cognitive activity and increasing sensory abilities.

But in other circumstances, where it has no practical purpose or persists longer than necessary, it can be harmful and have negative consequences.

Stress, ultimately, is the way we react to stressors: challenges – real or only perceived – to facing needs – real or only perceived.

Stressors, called “stressors”, can have an internal or external origin:

  • External stressors : these are environmental or work changes, new or difficult tasks to perform, events totally beyond our control, such as deadlines, a storm, or bills to pay.
  • Internal stressors : usually these are thoughts or behaviors; poor sleep or eating, or feelings of anger or anxiety.

However, not all types of stress are created equal. A distinction must be made between acute and chronic stress.

Acute stress gives us “superpowers”

We are all familiar with this type of stress. It is what makes us awake and reactive in the moment of the challenges or emotions of the day. It can help us if there is a real threat that has real consequences (for example, an important deadline).

If you are a serial procrastinator, for example, there is a good chance that you will only be able to give your best in the presence of a significant level of acute stress; therefore, normally, close to a deadline. Looking at things in this light, deadlines and deadlines would only be a positive stressor, useful for increasing productivity.

However, episodic or frequent acute stress, which is very common for those who lead chaotic lives, can over-excite the mind, which is confusing, counterproductive, and can lead to a nervous breakdown.

Chronic stress negatively impacts the quality of our life

It is what we usually call “bad stress”; wears us out over time. It is often the result of persistent environmental conditions: a job we don’t like, an unhealthy relationship, or financial hardship.

Chronic stress can affect the quality of sleep and, in fact, accelerates the aging process. We may not always be able to avoid the sources of chronic stress in our life. But, at least to some extent, we can control and manage stress.

Stress isn’t necessarily bad.

Some people are productive under stress and need to stay under pressure to be more operational. Others, however, meticulously plan everything in advance, to avoid having to manage stress, at least as long as they can. There is no right and wrong kind of approach. It is only important to be aware of the way you react to stress, giving the right weight to the duties to be faced.

Eustress is the right amount of stress, which helps us to increase our productivity; after all, in the total absence of stress, some tasks would be difficult to deal with with due attention. It goes without saying that distress , or excessive stress, can be a source of agitation and lead to frustration, anxiety, depression, poor performance, and other negative consequences.

According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, performing work that requires endurance (routine and tedious, or long-to-complete tasks) could benefit from higher levels of acute stress. While, one could normally focus better on new tasks in the absence of undue pressure.

How to manage stress: 6 strategies to try

How to manage stress

We have seen what stressors are and how they can affect our existence. Now let’s look at some strategies for managing stress in the most effective way.

Probably, the following will encourage us to change the way we see things, and beyond. It will also help us change the way we spend our most precious resource: time.

1 – Prioritize what’s important, not what’s urgent

Between work and family, it is often difficult to avoid having tons of things to do. With all that going on, it’s hard to know where to start; each task seems to have the same importance as the others.

This is why, to be able to manage stress, it is essential to have a reliable criterion that allows us to distribute our workload according to priorities.

It can be easy to prioritize tasks based on their simplicity, or their brevity. But a popular method is to evaluate each fulfillment on the basis of 2 criteria:

  1. Importance : Does completing the task contribute to the achievement of your professional and personal goals?
  2. Urgency : The task must be completed soon, otherwise there will be negative consequences?

Draw this matrix on a piece of paper the next time you feel overwhelmed with fulfillment. You may find that it helps manage stress much better than a traditional to do list.

Ultimately, this tool helps reveal how important a task is; that is, how close it can bring you to your goals.

That is why you are first called upon to select what is urgent and important: in order to address it immediately, given its relevance and its time-sensitive nature.

Second, you need to identify what is important and not urgent. These are tasks that can become urgent if left out for too long. So it’s best to at least start them, before that time comes.

After that, consider what is not important, but is urgent. Typically, these are tasks like answering emails, attending meetings, and paying bills by the deadline. These are not the most valuable tasks on your to-do list, but tasks subject to deadlines. Therefore, when you feel overwhelmed, don’t let these tasks worry you; ultimately, these are things that, even if neglected, would not prevent you from achieving your goals.

Finally, there are tasks that are neither important nor urgent. These are mostly tasks that you can currently decline without any real consequence. And they should be the first things to consider when crossing an item off the list, or refusing to take on an assignment.

2 – Say “no” more often

Saying yes to new opportunities can help you live a rich and interesting life. But the way to have a productive life is to be able to say no.

Do you tend to be a “yes person” and your usual response to requests for favors or anything else is “yes”? Then you probably find yourself routinely burdened with more things than you can handle; and often this situation overwhelms you.

Having too many commitments is not good for you, but it is counterproductive. It can prevent you from dealing with what is really important to you. By using the “importance – urgency matrix” to make decisions, you can identify unimportant tasks: those that can be declined in most cases without consequences.

Saying no can be difficult, especially if you are the type of person who feels a moral obligation to help others. But you can’t take care of others, or take care of your work better, if you don’t think about yourself first.

When you are overloaded and keep saying yes to every request, apply the simple principle of TED speaker, Derek Sivers:

If something doesn’t excite you, say no.

3 – Change the way you train

The goal of training does not have to be aimed at achieving the best physical shape. Instead, you can focus on the inner aspect and your well-being.

Exercising produces the release of endorphin, which acts on your body as a natural pain neutralizer. Relieves tension and improves sleep quality by reducing stress levels. Even 5 minutes of cardio can help achieve this effect. Incorporating physical activity into your routine can change the way you react to stress.

In the same way you can train your mind with “mindful meditation”. Several studies have shown that meditation can help increase control over our reactions to internal stressors; for example, unproductive thoughts that cause anxiety.

4 – Unplug from time to time

A study on social media and stress conducted by the American Psychological Association found that those who constantly check their social profiles are more stressed than those who do not check them as often.

The greatest level of stress was specifically detected by those who constantly monitor the email.

If it is true that technology allows us to do more and more and has become indispensable, it is equally true that it keeps us constantly connected to the world and to our work.

Every so often, especially when you are overworking yourself, try to get away from social media for a while.

  • Close notifications on your phone and other devices to disconnect for a short time.
  • Use the “Stay Focusd” Chrome extension to block social media sites for some time.

5 – Automate and delegate when possible

Detaching yourself from things and wanting to control them does not involve a loss of power. Instead, regaining control of your time and regaining attention means empowering yourself by being able to invest in what really matters.

Spending 5 minutes or an hour automating or delegating part of your current work can mean a permanent reduction in your stress load.

Consider using services like IFTTT (for your personal sphere) and Zapier (for your professional sphere) to save time and effort on repetitive tasks.

As for delegating, try hiring a virtual assistant (for everyday tasks) or an assistant on Zirtual (for entrepreneurs) to take care of administrative tasks.

Get in the habit of regularly examining repetitive processes, looking for simpler solutions for their execution. It’s a small time investment with huge long-term benefits.

6 – Start something that is meaningful to you on a personal level

In French it is said “raison d’être”, in Japanese “ikigai”, in English “purpose”. It is your personal goal, a concept that exists in many cultures and languages. Regardless of how we define it, it’s the idea of ​​having something meaningful to aim for.

Putting all your eggs in one basket can be dangerous to your well-being, whether it’s a job, a relationship, etc. If something goes wrong, it is difficult to separate that area from the others in your life.

It may seem like a contradiction to create more work for you to have a more stress-free life. But we repeat: Stress does not depend on the amount of work we have, it depends on our ability to react to it.

Whether it’s painting, writing, blogging, taking lessons about something, starting a second business, or attending meetings, having something that is always under our control – especially when the rest is beyond our control – can be a relief valve to manage stress.

Creative work in particular can help get rid of the stress accumulated from the rest of the job, making a nervous breakdown more unlikely.

Understanding the role of stress

Sometimes stress is a burden that we feel is beyond our control. The other side of the coin is that it has the potential to become a productive energy source.

Redefining our relationship with stress and being aware of it when we are overloaded, or when we don’t feel the right degree of pressure, can be one of the best tricks to improve our productivity.

Yes, because stress is not bad in itself. It is also thanks to it that we manage to survive, after all. So, learn to manage stress and change your way of thinking about it, to live better and more peacefully.