Using stress to benefit your productivity

You are sitting at your desk, staring at the screen and it seems like you have been stuck for at least the last hour. Stress can make us unproductive, cause serious health problems and exhaustion. Being overly stressed is a common state in our society. But you can actually use stress to boost your productivity. 

Most of us turned to google at one point to look up tips on how to reduce our stress level. And there sure are a lot of articles on that. While there are proven ways to reduce it, sometimes it is just not avoidable to be stressed. Stress can be caused by our environment, our body or our thoughts. Stress can lead to unproductivity, health problems and exhaustion. It can cause sleep problems, make us feel anxious or give us a feeling of losing control. 

A recent published report on student mental health in third level by the USI showed that more than 30% of all third-level students in Ireland often had difficulties with their mental health within the previous 12 months. 28,4% of students claimed that their mental health often impacted their studies. An additional 10,9% stated, that it impacted them at all times. A variety of studies over the last years have shown that students in general are more and more stressed and prone to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. And especially with the upcoming deadlines before the holidays and exams in January, students stress levels are high. But what exactly is stress? 

Stress is the body’s reaction to change. We react with physical, mental or emotional responses. We are designed to experience stress and react to it and in general stress can be both, positive or negative. Positive stress keeps us alert, motivated and protects us from danger. Stress becomes negative when we are presented with constant challenges without breaks. Negative stress keeps us from being and acting the best we can and results in overworking and tension.  

 Our nervous system has a built-in stress response that help us combat stressful situations. This stress response is known as “fight or flight response” and as James Claffey, Sport Psychologist and co-founder of p.r.i.d.e. psychology explains, used to be incredibly important for our ancestors to protect us from dying. Stress was not designed to kill us. However, if it continues without break, it can lead to negative stress responses such as headaches and physical pain or panic attacks and anxiety. So how do we turn all this, into something positive? 

Some researchers found, that those who see stress as a way to motivate themselves, accomplish better work and reduce the negative impact on their health than those who see it as a simply negative concept. Psychological Experts in the Harvard Business Review explain that there are ways to maximize the benefits of stress while reducing the negative effects it can have on health, social life and productivity. To do so, we have to change the way we view the stressors in our life. If we see something as a challenge rather than a threat, instead of the uneasiness or fear you would usually experience, your body answers with excitement, anticipation or determination. It is important to focus on the resources you have to meet the challenge, see the potential benefits of a situation, remind yourself of your strengths and have a positive mind-set. 

You have to recognize the stress you experience before you can reframe the way you do so. Through being optimistic and concerned rather than worried, we are able to take control, plan our next steps and replace the hold back with energy for productivity rather than panic. It is scientifically proven that this is possible. The ‘noradrenaline’ our brains produce in a stressful situation raises neural connectivity. This might also explain why some students seem to deliver better work right before a deadline. A very important part of utilizing this possibility is self-talk. While negative self-talk increases stress, its positive counterpart helps you calm down and control it. It does take practice to turn negative thoughts into positive ones, but the more you practice, the more automatic the responses becomes. Instead of “I won’t make it”, “I can do this if I take one step after the other”, can make a big difference. 

So, instead of letting the stress take over, getting you stuck and stop you from doing your best, you can use it as a boost. Practice to view “threats” like deadlines and exams as a challenge and remind yourself of your strengths. Plan, prioritize and view stress as a by-product of your success. Practice is key. 

On a side note, while it certainly is normal to be stressed to an extent, it should not dominate your everyday life. Should you notice that this is the case, it is crucial to put things into perspective, focus on the important and positive things and contact a professional if necessary. 

Kant, Bentham and the media ethical framework

The media industry is transforming at a very fast pace, especially within the news media, where professional journalists now share the stage with bloggers, citizens and social media users. It is crucial for journalists, publishers, PR-agents and other professionals alike, to develop an ethical code that provides the necessary guidelines for the industry. Particularly due to the instantaneous publishing methods online and the lack of professional gatekeepers, the media industry in general has become more interactive and immediate. 

While there are attempts to set ethical guidelines for the industry, the question of moral is one that is still raised regularly. Ethical guidelines have been developed, mainly based on professional, objective reporting for newspapers within the last century (Ward, 2019). These existing codes of conduct seek to set relevant ethical standards and guidelines for professionals within the media industry. However, ethics cannot be identified as a simple set of rules determining what is right or wrong. Ethics are moral maxims, which determine behaviour and action. Discussions originate not only in relation to individuals taking decisions but also the interpretation of principles and practices within the media landscape. 

There are a variety of ethical systems and theories existing codes of conduct draw from. Ethical theories are classified based on whether they determine the good, the right or virtues to be the most crucial aspect of ethics. Teleological theories are “good-based”, virtue ethic theories take concern with the development of an ethical character and the practical wisdom on what decision is right or wrong in a complex situation while deontological ethical systems are mainly concerned with the rights and duties of the individual or the institution (Ward, 2019). 

The deontological system of Immanuel Kant as well as the teleological theory of Jeremy Bentham are essential for the codes of conduct and the media ethic framework. 

The Prussian German Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) suggested that the principle of morality is the standard of rationality (Johnson and Cureton, 2016). According to him, it is possible to build a consistent moral system through using reason. He referred to this the “Categorical Imperative” which he intended to serve as the basis of all other moral rules (Johnson and Cureton, 2016)). In comparison to the hypothetical imperative which commands on the basis of the recipient having a relevant desire, categorial imperatives are unconditionally. According to Kant, the Categorial Imperative is an unbiased, rationally necessary and definite principle (Johnson and Cureton, 2016) that an individual has to adhere to, despite any personal predilections which might contradict the action to take. It determines the moral duty of every human being. According to the Philosopher, every moral decision is justified by the Categorical Imperative which in consequence means that all immoral actions are irrational. 

His first formulation of the Categorical Imperatives speaks to “act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” (Kant, 1785). If one is not willing for the ethical maxim, they claim to follow to be equally applied to all of humanity, said maxim is not a legitimate moral rule. Moral rules according to Kant must be universalizable and must respect all human beings. His second formulation speaks to “act so that you treat humanity, both in your own person and in that of another, always as an end and never merely as a means.” (BBC, 2014).  

A Kant’s theory is duty-based, which means that an action being right or wrong does not depends on their consequences but on whether or not they fulfil the duty of a human being. The only valid reason according to the philosopher to do the right thing is because of duty (BBC, 2014). Otherwise, one wold not have acted in a morally good way. Duty-based ethics provide therefore a higher degree of certainty to decision making as consequences cannot always be predicted. However, Kantian ethics are absolutist. Since an action is deemed right or wrong in itself and not by its consequences, it allows acts that make the world a less good place. 

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was an English philosopher whose approach to ethics in contrast to Kant, is a teleological one.  His principle of utilitarianism, determines right from wrong by focusing on the outcomes of an action. It is a form of consequentialism. Bentham’s philosophy is as mentioned based on the principle of the utility as well as universal egoism and the identification of an individual’s interest with those of others (Postema, 2006).  

According to Bentham, what produces the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people is morally obligatory (Sweet, n.d.). Happiness in this sense means the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain, which according to Bentham are the primary motivators in human beings. Based on Bentham’s principle of utility, an action is proven right or wrong based on its enhancement or weakening of the happiness of a person or group concerned by the act (UK Essays, 2018). Utilitarianism is the only moral framework that can justify military force and war (Crimmins, 2019). Actions like lying or killing, are wrong according to deontologist approaches like Kant’s, no matter the circumstances. 

Bentham also provided one of the first theories on publicity. He claimed that everyone has a right to information concerning their government actions (Zion, 2015). Bentham’s stand on publicity are linked today to transparency in the media landscape. 

Kant’s theory in a way is more simplistic and straight forward in comparison to Bentham’s theory. The determination of one’s duty instead of an actions consequence seems to be a simpler task. While Kant’s deontological moral system provides a Journalist or media professional with a very clear direction based on said duties, there are obvious limitations. Based on a Journalists duty as for example, to portray a story as it happened and telling the truth and nothing but the truth, one could argue in regards to Kant’s theory, that the consequences of said reporting are not relevant to determine if the act of reporting on a story is right or wrong. However, there are certainly cases where it is absolutely vital to consider the consequences of one’s report. While in most cases, journalists should aim to fulfil their duty, there are cases where it has to be a priority to consider the consequences while reporting. It is necessary to be sensitive and minimize harm in instances of tragedy (Duprey, 2010).  

For instance, studies have proven, that a reporting on suicide increases the suicide rate for the consumers of said reports (WHO, 2008; Stack, 2003; McTernan, N. et al., 2018). While according to Kant the duty of the Journalist to report thoroughly and truthfully would deem the action morally correct, Bentham’s theory here demands to consider the possible consequences. Within a deontological ethic framework, it is not possible to declare an action immoral by its negative consequences.  One who commits to duty-based ethics is obliged to do the right thing, even if it results in more harm than the wrong thing. It is necessary to temper Kant’s deontological approach with that of Bentham for ethical conflicts like this. 

The advantages of Bentham’s principle of utility based moral system is that it allows for discussion of decisions, and enables decisions to be made in situations where there are different interests in conflict. Open debate has not only to be possible within the media landscape but is vital to democracy. An additional concern in this context is the fact that the media at this point in time has to take ethic discussions to a global level. In the digital global age Kant’s approach is problematic on its own, since his definition of a moral right and wrong might be called into question based on cultural differences in duties, values and maxims.  

It is however, indeed rather difficult to foresee the consequences of an action at times since the circumstances in which the decision is taking place may change and alter the outcome. This makes the question whether an action will result in more pleasure or pain very complicated (UK Essays, 2018), which is why Bentham’s approach alone is not sufficient as a guideline in the media ethical framework. 

Both theories provide a guidance for ethical decision making (Trentkamp, 2009). According to Bentham as well as Kant, every human being is equal and both theories emphasise the respect for human beings as well as a principle of universalizability (Nordenstam, 2001). However, while Kant’s approach certainly seems to be the more straightforward and easier to follow one, it has as previously mentioned limitations.  It is vital for professionals in the media landscape to take Bentham’s theory into account and act not only based on duty but consider the consequences one’s action might have. 

Bibliography 

BBC. (2014). Ethics – Introduction to duty-based ethics. [online] Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/introduction/duty_1.shtml#top [Accessed 4 November 2019]. 

Crimmins, James E. (2019). Jeremy Bentham. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online] Available from: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2019/entries/bentham/ [Accessed 5 November 2019]. 

Duprey, Patrick (2010). The Five Fundamentals of Journalism Ethics. [online] Available from: http://dupreyethics.blogspot.com/2010/05/five-fundamentals-of-journalism-ethics.html [Accessed 11 November 2019]. 

Johnson, R. and Cureton, A. (Spring 2019 Edition). Kant’s Moral Philosophy, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. [online] Plato.stanford.edu. Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2019/entries/kant-moral/ [Accessed 4 November 2019]. 

Kant, Immanuel (1785). Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott (ed.) Project Gutenberg. [online] Available at:  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5682 [Accessed 04 November 2019]. 

Nordenstam, Tore. (2001). Kant and the Utilitarians. In Ethical Perspectives. 8(1):29-36. [online] Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/250132709_Kant_and_the_Utilitarians [Accessed 05 November 2019].  

Postema, Gerald. (2006). Interests, Universal and Particular: Bentham’s Utilitarian Theory of Value. In Utilitas 18(02):109-133. [online] Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/4857309_Interests_Universal_and_Particular_Bentham’s_Utilitarian_Theory_of_Value [Accessed 05 November 2019]. 

Sweet, William. (n.d.). Jeremy Bentham (1748—1832). [online] iep.utm.edu. Available from: https://www.iep.utm.edu/bentham/ [Accessed 05 November 2019]. 

Trenkamp, Lesley M. (2009). The identification of ethical frameworks using public administration students. The Graduate Faculty of The University of Akron. [online] Available from: https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=akron1258386482&disposition=inline [Accessed 11 November 2019]. 

UKEssays. (2018). Bentham Vs Kant Why Kants Theory More Appealing Philosophy Essay. [online] Available from: https://www.ukessays.com/essays/philosophy/bentham-vs-kant-why-kants-theory-more-appealing-philosophy-essay.php?vref=1 [Accessed 11 November 2019]. 

Ward, Stephen J. A. (2019). Ethics in a Nutshell, Center for Journalism Ethics, School of Journalism and Mass Communication. [online] ethics.journalism.wisc.edu. Available at: https://ethics.journalism.wisc.edu/resources/ethics-in-a-nutshell/ [Accessed 4 November 2019]. 

Zion, Lawrie; et.al. (2015). Ethics for digital Journalists, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. [online] okumedya.com. Available at: http://www.okumedya.com/Ethics%20for%20Dijital%20Journalists.pdf [Accessed 4 November 2019].Page Break 

Additional Readings 

Stack, S. (2003). Media coverage as a risk factor in suicide. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health; 57(4):238-240. [online] Available at: https://jech.bmj.com/content/57/4/238 [Accessed 11 November 2019].  

WHO (2008). Preventing suicide: a resource for media professionals. World Health Organization. Dept. of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/resource_media.pdf [Accessed 11 November 2019]. 

McTernan, N. et al. (2018). Media reporting of suicide and adherence to media guidelines. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 64(6), pp. 536–544. [online] Available at:  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0020764018784624 [Accessed 11 November 2019].