How To Stop Trying To Avoid Work Stress (And Use It To Your Advantage, Instead)

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How to be the kind of person who performs under pressure.

Everyone experiences stress at work. It’s an inevitable part of your day, simply because most employees strive for performance, growth and even measurable success.

Whether you’re a nurse or an engineer, a teacher or a computer programmer, everyone strives to do better, because theoretically, doing better leads to more — more money, prestige, recognition, and praise.

But getting to the top of the ladder isn't easy. Not only is it stressful, but in many ways, it challenges you in ways you may never have anticipated.

Many people ask themselves, "What does it take to get to the top?"

In truth, there are several distinctive factors that separate successful people from those who are merely reaching for success. One of the biggest differences is found in how daily stress is metabolized.

Yes, successful people simply deal with work stress better. They have strategies and tools to help transform daily stress into workable situations.

The very good news is that most of these strategies can be learned. They are not part of your DNA, but instead, are skill sets that can be taught and mentored.

Work is full of ‘demands for change’ and challenges to stretch and grow your capacity. The life hack for a highly successful life begins by investigating how you view stress at work.

Employers look for team members who can "perform under pressure" and "take the heat". For many top-level performers, some amount of pressure is required to stay on top because your mind is always engaged, bettering your performance and opening doors that lead to greater success.

Good stress at work equals greater success.


RELATED: 9 Ways To Manage Stress When You're Feeling Totally Crazy And Out Of Control


The smart thinking around stress isn't to try and reduce it or get rid of stress, but to identify the right amount of stress needed to motivate you and inspire creativity.

Because of the way healthy stress affects your brain, good stress at work can help grow your career and lead to unknown opportunities. To harness its power, you have to understand how good stress at work can lead to greater productivity.

Here are four ways good stress at work can serve as a tool to improve your performance and put you on the fast-track to success:

1. It helps you focus.

When you know a hectic week or deadline is on the horizon, the increased stress and the discomfort it brings can help your mind to focus at a more pin-pointed level. By lasering in on the tasks that must be done, you can minimize distractions and keep perfectionism at a dull roar. It’s hard to be "perfect" when there is a deadline to meet.

Perfectionism, distractions, and procrastination all hurt reaching a goal. When you have unlimited time, often things don’t get done. Deadlines and the ensuing stress they bring are incredibly helpful in minimizing your to-do list and focusing your mind on the most pressing task at hand.

2. Your brain strengthens after a stressful experience.

A recent study at Berkeley revealed that a moderate amount of stress can cause your brain to grow in the areas connected to memory and focus for the few weeks following a stressful event. After the stressful period, your brain is literally "more alert" and an alert brain is one that gets things done.

Additionally, when your brain has faced an event, it is more prepared to deal with that same event in the future.

In other words, you won’t lose as much sleep the next time the same deadline rolls around. Your brain will remind you that you did it before and some of the anxiety will abate out of sheer recognition.

3. It fuels optimal performance.

According to researcher and positive psychology expert, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, your highest achievements in life are often experienced through a state of mind he calls flow. Flow is when your actions, thoughts, and bodily responses are aligned, tasks are done with ease and clarity, and there is a feeling of effortlessness and utmost concentration.

Athletes describe this feeling, as do high-level performers who are "in the zone" and achieving their goals. By harnessing stress and channeling fear or anxiety into productive actions, you can actually trigger a sense of momentum that gets more done, regardless of whether the stress being felt is comfortable or relaxing.

The mere state of being in the flow causes you to feel positive and in many cases, happy.


RELATED: 8 Low-Key, Totally Do-Able Ways To Manage Anxiety At Work


4. It can give you a competitive edge (even when you think you can't).

Consider the beloved Aesop's fable of the tortoise and the hare. The hare offers great insight into the fuel that anxious feelings can bring to our lives:

Hare ran down the road for a while and then and paused to rest. He looked back at Slow and Steady and cried out, "How do you expect to win this race when you are walking along at your slow, slow pace?"

Hare stretched himself out alongside the road and fell asleep, thinking, "There is plenty of time to relax."

Slow and Steady walked and walked. He never, ever stopped until he came to the finish line. The animals who were watching cheered so loudly for Tortoise, they woke up Hare. Hare stretched and yawned and began to run again, but it was too late. Tortoise was over the line. 

David Cottrell, executive coach and author speaks about the underlying truth about why the hare never made it to the finish line, distraction:

"After all, if the hare had run straight to the finish line, it would have won. Perseverance would not have beaten speed in that case. But the hare was so consumed with its talent that it forgot to use that gift, diverted by the prospect of a soothing nap. The tortoise never got distracted: It focused on the finish line."

In our modern world, distraction from the goal at hand is a very challenging interference to overcome. From relationships to technology to the very dialogue going on between your own ears, when you are distracted from your goals, meeting them is almost impossible.

To combat this never-ending nuisance, you have to change how you think about stress. That is perhaps the most important skill of all. Positive stress in your life is a good thing. Maintaining a healthy, optimistic respect for what it can do for you is critical to not falling prey to negativity, distraction or depression.

In fact, a large-scale study has found that how you think about stress defines the impact it has on your life. If you’re overly focused on the negative pressure, its discomfort and your worries about how you’re handling it, you will feel it more negatively.

Whereas if you think about stress as motivating, positive and fueling productive problem-solving for the things you care about, you can use it to your advantage to fuel positive growth.

By learning to harness the strengths found in the good stress at work, it is undeniably a tool for growth and career advancement. By paying attention to your beliefs about stress, you can leverage the benefits and use them to cultivate the competitive edge you are working so hard to have in your career.


RELATED: 9 Ways Successful People Use Stress And Anxiety To Their Benefit


Dr. Alicia Clark is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. For more help with managing stress and anxiety, check out her anxiety blog, download her free ebook, or sign up for her newsletter.

This article was originally published at Dr Alicia Clark's blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.