Editor's Note: The spectrum of anxiety, including the vast range of clinical anxiety diagnoses, is varied and complex. People may experience anxiety in mild to moderate or occasional forms, or may live full-time with a serious anxiety disorder. If you feel, at any time, that your anxious feelings are negatively affecting your day-to-day life, please don't hesitate to seek professional help. If you are currently struggling with or seeking treatment for your anxiety, we support you!
It’s 3 pm on a Friday and you’re pushing towards a 5:00 pm deadline. Your palms are sweating, your heart is going a mile a minute, and you can’t seem to catch your breath.
As the clock ticks closer to your deadline, you just feel worse—and by the time you finish your project (just in the nick of time), you feel like an anxious ball of nerves.
We’ve all been there! It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, or where you work—at some point, pretty much everyone experiences a certain degree of work-related anxiety. The deeper you move into your career the more likely you are to face a situation (whether that’s a looming deadline, a seemingly never-ending to-do list, or a challenging review) that can make anyone feel anxious, stressed, and all sorts of uncomfortable.
But while you might immediately assume those anxious, stressed, and uncomfortable feelings mean that something’s wrong, the truth is they’re totally normal—and if you know how to harness those feelings, they can actually help you.
“People are afraid of anxiety, and they think that there's something wrong with them if they feel it,” says Dr. Alicia Clark, psychologist and author of Hack Your Anxiety: How To Make Anxiety Work For You In Life, Love, and All That You Do. “[But] we don't function at our best unless we have some level of stress and anxiety.” The difference, it's important to point out, is that anxiety can seriously affect our performance (and lives), and knowing when to seek support (see editor's note).
So a certain level of anxiety can help you perform at a higher level... but how, exactly, does that work? How can you “hack” your anxiety at work and use it to do your best output, increase your productivity, and get even more done?
Anxiety vs Productivity: How They Interact
Before we jump into how to hack your anxiety to power through your to-do list, it’s important to understand how anxiety and productivity are related in the first place.
“Where I usually start in discussing the relationship between productivity and anxiety is a study that's been replicated over and over and over,” says Clark. “It’s become known as the Yerkes–Dodson law.”
According to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, performance increases with mental or physiological arousal (which is a very fancy word for stress) but only to a point. Once stress passes that specific point, performance begins to drop pretty dramatically.
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