While many of us think as of stress as something we need to avoid–or manage through daily yoga and meditation practices–a small amount of daily stress can help us to respond faster, focus more intently, and perform better than if we were in a constant state of relaxation.
Sebastian Bailey, author of Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, says putting stress under a negative spotlight means missing out on some of its key benefits.
He argues our peak productivity comes at a point of eustress–or euphoric stress–a state in which we’re being challenged. “[In this state] you feel more energized; you’re exhilarated,” he says. “You may feel slightly under pressure but are determined, acting as though every moment counts.” It’s in this state of eustress that productivity is maximized. Being slightly under pressure causes us to work a little faster, and focus more intently on the task at hand.
But, the benefits of stress have a limit. Too much stress can cause us to feel overwhelmed, which is when we tip into a state of distress–where the negative consequences of stress become more pronounced.
When you find yourself in a stressful situation, keep these tips in mind to take advantage of its productivity benefits:
While the thought of standing in front of a crowd of people to deliver a presentation is enough to send many of us into an instant state of distress, Bailey says we can quickly and easily put ourselves into the ideal state of eustress simply by altering our perception of the situation.
The first step is to minimize the importance of the event. “By minimizing its importance, you downplay the level of arousal,” he says. The second step is to downplay the importance of the outcome. “People often over-exaggerate how important the outcome of a situation is,” says Bailey. Consider whether you will remember the presentation six months, or a year from now. Chances are, you won’t remember it a month from now.
Think about what’s positive about the situation that’s causing you to feel stressed. An overloaded work schedule, for example, may cause you to tip into distress. But taking a moment to celebrate the fact that you’re needed, that your business is successful, or that you’re learning and growing can be enough to push you from the inhibiting state of distress into the productivity enhancing state of eustress.
Similarly, receiving negative customer feedback can be paralyzing to some business owners who worry a few negative reviews will signal the end of their business, but focusing on the positive–like how a customer’s feedback will allow you to improve either your product or business–can change your state of distress into eustress.
Your über-relaxed coworker who never seems to stress out about a deadline may be the envy of his stressed-out colleagues, but being too relaxed can be as detrimental to productivity as being overly stressed.
Bailey advises those who are feeling a little lax to add a little challenge to their lives to reach the productive state of eustress. When setting goals, he explains, be sure to make them challenging, but realistic as well. “If you set over-stretching goals, then you’ll give up much faster,” warns Bailey.