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.