Stress at work is unavoidable, and can sometimes feel debilitating — even getting out of bed to commute or face another long shift suddenly becomes a seemingly impossible feat if you feel anxious and frazzled.
While too much stress can cause serious health issues like heart disease and diabetes, a moderate amount of the right kind of stress can actually help you be happier and more productive at work, according to new research.
People who hold a positive stress mindset, which means stress is a challenge to be embraced, are more productive, focus better, feel more motivated at their jobs and are less likely to consider new work opportunities due to stress, Indeed's Oct. 6 Workplace Wellbeing Report, which surveyed 5,026 U.S. workers, found.
"Stress is a normal human emotion, but most people view stress and anxiety as feelings to fear," Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscientist at New York University, tells CNBC Make It. "What I like to remind people is that to be the best version of yourself, at work or in relationships, you need that little bit of fire in your belly to energize you to be proactive and put forth your best effort."
There's a "sweet spot" with stress that most people can tap into, Suzuki adds, where you feel alert but aren't debilitated — in this case, stress can be a positive, motivating force. For example: If you're worried about remembering important tasks you need to accomplish during the next workday, you might write a to-do list the night before.
Endorsing stress as a challenge, rather than as a problem, is a counterintuitive trick that can boost your productivity and improve your well-being at work. Suzuki and Peter Vitaliano, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, offer the following tips to cultivate a positive stress mindset:
There are some stressful work environments that just can't be controlled — a toxic boss, commuter traffic or mass layoffs, for example — and in those instances, a positive stress mindset can't help you, Vitaliano explains.
Five textbook elements of a toxic workplace to look out for are environments that are disrespectful, non-inclusive, unethical, cutthroat or allow abusive management, according to research published in the MIT Sloan Management Review.
Indeed's report also counts repeated conflicts or bad relationships with colleagues and managers, and managers who don't seem to care about how their employees feel, as contributors to negative stress.
In such cases, "you might become stronger for having endured a bad work situation, but if the stressors are out of your control, it's best to move on and leave that environment," Vitaliano says.
To develop a positive stress mindset, it's important to first recognize the negative thought patterns or limiting beliefs you might be repeating to yourself.
Metacognition, or "thinking about your own thinking," as Suzuki describes it, can help you re-write negative thought patterns that could be perpetuating your stress at work. Jocelyne Gafner, a writer and editor at Indeed, suggests starting with a belief you'd like to change and countering it with a more optimistic thought instead.
"For example, if you find yourself thinking, 'I am drowning in work, I can't do this,' you can talk back by saying, 'I have a lot of work to do and I will do my best, but I can only do one thing at a time … if I don't finish my work my manager will understand,'" she writes in the report.
It can also be helpful to challenge negative thoughts with past examples of difficult work situations you've overcome, Vitaliano suggests, or reminding yourself of your strengths.
"If you're nervous about presenting in a meeting, for example, remind yourself of a time you were nervous for a presentation before and did well, or the hours you've spent preparing for the meeting," he explains. "If you dwell on the what-ifs and the things out of your control, you're only going to hurt yourself."
Constantly stressing about your job can be draining, but incorporating more of the things you enjoy into your job, whether it's learning a new skill, working with a different team or exploring volunteer opportunities, can help you curb workplace overwhelm.
Setting clear goals that excite you and maintaining an open dialogue with your manager about how to achieve those goals can help you build a resilient, positive stress mindset, according to Indeed's research.
This tactic can also help you build your confidence and problem-solving skills, which are valuable traits that can help you thrive both in and out of the workplace, Vitaliano adds.
If you're not comfortable approaching your boss, he suggests finding a co-worker you trust and can get honest feedback from, and see if there are opportunities to collaborate with them or a different team on a passion project.
Ultimately, a positive stress mindset could be the difference between languishing and having the best possible experience you can at work, Suzuki says. "It's not always roses and rainbows," she adds. "Even if you are in a terrible job that you hate, there's something useful in almost every work situation you're in."
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