For many, anxiety is the enemy. It can make you feel nervous and afraid and can prevent you from taking actions that will move you forward in life. People often look at anxiety as something they need to get rid of or prevent, but what if that isn’t the case? Would your relationship to anxiety change if you could look at is as a friend rather than an enemy?
Anxiety itself may not be the problem; not knowing what to do with it may be the main issue. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. If you can accept that some anxiety is inevitable, you may be able to learn how to work with it instead of against it.
Here are seven creative ways to turn anxiety into productivity.
1. Use the Adrenaline
Anxiety gives you adrenaline. Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can cause physical symptoms similar to anxiety symptoms in the body by increasing heart rate and constricting the blood vessels. Coffee is a popular productivity booster for this reason. If you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming project, speech, or other task, try utilizing the extra energy to help improve performance and increase productivity.
Many sports psychologists and coaches generally want their athletes to be a little anxious rather than relaxed right before a game. Researchers say there is a “sweet spot”—a moderate amount of anxiety that actually helps people perform better by keeping them on their toes. Studies have shown learning increases when stress hormones are slightly elevated. The Yerkes-Dodson curve—originally developed by Harvard psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson in 1908—illustrates how arousal enhances performance up to a certain point, but too much anxiety may hinder performance.
2. Reframe Your Anxiety
Anxiety is not always a negative thing. Telling yourself anxiety is bad and trying to avoid it may end up making the problem worse. Rather than saying “I’m so nervous,” try saying “I’m so excited” instead.
Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. If you can accept that some anxiety is inevitable, you may be able to learn how to work with it instead of against it.A research study conducted at Harvard Business School found saying “I am excited” out loud can improve performance. In order to increase anxiety levels during the study, Dr. Alison Woods Brooks told students their persuasive speeches would be recorded. Before delivering the speech, students were instructed to say “I am excited” or “I am calm” out loud to themselves.
Those who said “I am excited” gave longer speeches that were more competent, relaxed, and persuasive than those who said “I am calm.”
Because anxiety and excitement are both emotional states characterized by high arousal, Dr. Woods suggests it may be easier to reframe symptoms of anxiety as excitement rather than trying to be calm. When you’re feeling anxious, you often focus on potential threats. In these situations, it is more productive to try to reframe the situation and focus on potential opportunities instead of threats.
3. Accept that Anxiety May Be Inevitable
Some situations or tasks may always give you some amount of anxiety. Rather than trying to avoid these tasks or diminish the emotion, it may be best just to accept the feeling as part of the experience.
The more you view anxiety as routine and normal, the less power it can have over you. Even successful people experience fear. They just choose to find a way to persevere in spite of it. Try to remember that anxiety and fear are natural reactions. If you’re able to, choose to focus on the task in front of you rather than the fear related to it.
4. Channel the Anxiety into Motivationmotivation. Research shows most people have an anxiety sweet spot where they have enough anxiety to feel alert, but not enough to feel debilitated. In this state, anxiety can be an excellent motivator. For example, if you’re worried about theft, you might lock your doors. If you’re concerned about your health, you might visit a doctor. Whatever the worry, the surrounding anxiety can often push you to do something about it.
Anxiety often results from some sort of apprehension about the future. Perhaps you’re worrying about the outcome of something you really care about. Remind yourself why it matters to you in the first place, and let that drive you forward. Anxiety has the ability to make you more alert, focused, and productive, and you have the ability to use that to your advantage.
5. Distinguish Productive Worry from Unproductive Worry
Anxiety can be either productive or unproductive. Unproductive anxiety usually amounts to worrying about things that are out of your control and may lead to an anxiety attack. If you can’t do anything to change the situation, you might be wasting your time and energy by worrying about it.
On the contrary, productive anxiety generally amounts to worry about things you do have the power to change. If you are worried about a presentation you have to give to your boss, you can acknowledge your anxiety and take the steps necessary to help you be best prepared for the presentation.
6. Decatastrophize Your Anxiety
Anxiety often stems from fear. Try to decatastrophize your anxiety by asking yourself what it is you are truly afraid of.
What is the worst possible outcome, and what are the odds of that actually occurring? When you realize even the worst outcome isn’t as bad as it may seem in your head, your anxiety may start to decrease.
7. Practice Centering
Centering is a pre-performance technique originally designed by sports psychologist Dr. Robert Nideffer in the 1970s. Centering is a 7-step process that can help you quiet the mind, focus, and gain poise.
- Step 1: Choose a focal point. Select a focal point that is below eye level to minimize distractions.
- Step 2: Set a clear intention. Your intention is your goal. What task are you planning on doing in spite of your anxiety? Whether it is a performance, work task, or creative project, clearly state your intention in positive language.
- Step 3: Breathe mindfully. Use diaphragmatic breathing to calm the body and deactivate the body’s fight or flight response.
- Step 4: Scan and release tension. When you engage in more negative thinking, the muscles in the body have a tendency to tighten. Scan the body slowly for tension, relaxing the muscles one by one.
- Step 5: Find your center. In many Eastern philosophies and traditions, it is believed the body has a specific location where the center of a person’s energy rests. By finding your center, you may begin to feel more grounded, calm, and self-assured.
- Step 6: Visualize success. Visualize yourself accomplishing your intended goal. Activate the right brain by imagining what it would look like, feel like, and smell like to achieve your desired results.
- Step 7: Direct your energy appropriately. By the time you reach the last step, you are more likely to be calm enough to channel the energy appropriately. Rather than trying to rid yourself of the anxiety completely, you can use it as inspiration.
Anxiety can be both normal and healthy in small amounts. If it becomes debilitating and is negatively impacting your life, a qualified therapist may be able to help you learn how to deal with anxiety.
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