Growth / Productivity

How to stay productive despite high stress

Rebecca Willis

Updated: Dec 20, 2023 · 5 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

How to stay productive despite high stress

Work-related stress has become problematic in the 21st century. The American Institute of Stress reports that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress, and 42% say their coworkers need help managing stress.

Is stress always bad?

It's important to distinguish positive stress (eustress) from negative stress (distress).

The concept of positive stress was formulated by endocrinologist Hans Selye in 1974. It was he who discovered that not every stress is harmful, and that some of its manifestations mobilize and heal the body. Positive stress can stimulate staff members to work better and increase concentration at work in a short period.

Negative stress is more common and can impair health and productivity. Moreover, it can lead to chronic stress that often develops in the conditions of routine work and permanent overstrain. A person starts to concentrate on personal worries at the expense of working efficiency. Problems keep piling up and the vicious circle becomes tighter.

Stress symptoms

Stress is a gradual process. At first, its symptoms are implicit and weak, but they worsen over time. If you pay attention to them in time and reduce the main factors, you can prevent burnout and negative impact.

Everyone has experienced days in which it's difficult to get out of bed because there's a feeling of overload, helplessness, or lack of recognition. But you must be alerted if it's your constant state. Burnout manifests itself through physical symptoms: a lasting feeling of fatigue and exhaustion, decreased immunity, frequent colds, headaches and muscle aches, loss of appetite and sleep.

Emotional signs include feelings of failure, self-doubt, helplessness, feelings of defeat and loneliness, loss of motivation, decreased sense of satisfaction and completeness, and a cynical and/or negative outlook on the future.

Behavioral symptoms of work overstrain are procrastination, self-isolation, consumption of various energizers, absenteeism, and tardiness.

Take a stress tolerance test to define your level of stress. If your result is approaching a critical mark, look for ways to reduce it.

Maintain productivity in stressful conditions

The sooner you notice that stress is starting to affect your overall condition, the better. You must monitor the reactions of your body and learn to understand when you move from enthusiasm to overstrain.

There are several techniques to prevent stress from intervening with your work:

Analyze your state

It's important to compile a list of everything that causes a stressful situation for you. An efficient strategy for fighting stress is to develop emotional intelligence. Often ridiculous moments cause serious stress due to your excessive emotional attitude. Try to see the big picture, not just individual facts.

Dissatisfaction with work, career, and inflated expectations can also cause distress. In this case, look at yourself and your work differently. It's foolish to waste energy in search of the perfect job, boss, team. Think positively and constructively, and it will help to mobilize and express yourself to the fullest.

Plan your day

Every day, make a plan for attacking tasks and estimate the time you'll spend on each of them. If you experience prolonged stress, then don't be afraid to say "no" to the boss or colleagues when asked to take another task or additional responsibilities. Explain to them that your physical strength and creativity are not endless, and if you're stretched too thin, then a substandard result is guaranteed.

In emergencies, you need to determine the minimum number of tasks you need to complete. When putting together a list of priorities, always assess the amount of time and energy you can spend. And remember, some tasks can be postponed without serious consequences.

Avoid multitasking

When you try to do two things at once, such as attend a conference call and work with email, you're constantly switching between tasks with different information contexts. As a result, you get more tired and stressed, lose information, and make mistakes.

"It is an illusion to consider that you can equally treat several working issues at the same time," says Kate Roth, a marketing specialist from Ivory Research, a company that has dealt with thousands of overloaded customers. "This approach undermines not only your productivity but also the productivity of the whole team. Moreover, you pay with the loss of time, effort, and creativity: you are busy but unproductive."

Reduce your perfectionism

The goal to perform everything at a high level is great, but excessive perfectionism can lead to exhaustion. Think about the quality of your work and determine a level achievable for yourself. Setting unrealistic goals can not only lead to high levels of distress, but also damage self-esteem.

Develop healthy habits

Medical experts claim that exercise can significantly increase resistance to stress. So can enjoying art, outdoor activities, and communication with pets.

Even laughter is an effective means of combating stress and recovering working capabilities. According to Henri Rubinstein, author of The Psychosomatics of Laughter, one minute of laughter equals 45 minutes of gymnastics or exercise.

Ask for help

We often mistakenly think we can handle everything on our own. But sometimes it's OK to seek assistance. Even a simple conversation with someone else can relieve stress and enable you to look at a situation from a different angle. In many cases, other people can see a solution to your problem that you can't because they're not linked to the situation or experiencing it from within.

Final thought

To effectively cope with working stress, you must first recognize the problem. If you're not able to change the current situation, change your attitude toward it. Learn to transform the negative reaction into a positive field. You need to find out what you can eliminate and modify, and what you have to deal with from time to time in any case. Introduce the above tips into your working routine, and very soon you'll see positive shifts in your professional activity.

Before you go ...

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