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Are you facing a huge workload today? Coping with all that pressure and feeling better could be as easy as changing your mind about stress.
Developing a “positive stress mindset” may help you feel vigorous and perform well on a particularly demanding day, a study recently published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology has found.
“I find it fascinating how differently people react to stressful work conditions such as high workload,” Anne Casper, the co-author and a research assistant at the University of Mannheim in Germany, told TODAY.
“Studies have shown that the stress mindset can be changed by relatively simple interventions.”
First, consider your own feelings:
Do you think of stress as a threat that’s harmful to your well-being and something to be avoided? If so, you have a negative stress mindset.
Or do you think of it as a challenge you can manage, and an opportunity that can help you grow, master a new skill or push to you towards better performance? If so, you have a positive stress mindset.
It can make a big difference.
The study is based on diaries that 171 German workers filled out during a workweek. In the morning, they wrote down how busy they expected to be that day. After work, they recorded how proactive they were in response to any stress. Finally at bedtime, they wrote down how much they achieved that day and how they felt about it. All of the participants also completed a survey that measured their stress mindset.
The study found that on days when work was expected to pile up, workers with a positive stress mindset were already on their toes and thinking how to tackle the projects. They made more effort to be proactive — planning, organizing, and framing the situation as a learning opportunity — than their negative colleagues. That, in turn, helped them to be more dynamic and achieve higher performance, the study suggests. They also felt more “vigorous” at the end of the day.
People with a positive stress mindset focused on the workload’s “positive consequences such as finishing an important project or getting a promotion,” the study authors noted.
People with a negative stress mindset were more interested in “escaping the stressful situation,” so they focused on avoidance, they added. That may make their day even more miserable.
Change your stress mindset:
You can change how you view stress, but it takes consistent effort, said Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Mill Valley, California, and author of “The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity.”
“Keep practicing reframing the situation, like ‘What’s in this for me?” or “What’s the opportunity here?” Focus on the potential on growth or if there is something you get out of it,” advised Greenberg, who was not involved in the study.
It’s easier if you have more control over the situation or know that stress is a necessary part of reaching your goals, like a promotion, she said. Some people also naturally thrive on being busy and having lots of demands
If you are facing a stressful day, here’s how to cope better:
• First, deal with your body’s physiology: If your heart is racing and you’re feeling panicky, take deep breaths, ground yourself, feel your feet on the ground and your body in the chair, Greenberg said. Perhaps listen to relaxing music. Once you’ve calmed down, you can think more clearly.
• Try to consciously think about the positive consequences of stress: Think back to when you went through a stressful situation that had a good outcome — perhaps you felt satisfied and happy afterwards, or you performed very well, Casper said. Also think of other people as role models — perhaps you have a colleague who thrives under high workload, she added.
• Think about all the reasons you’re in this job: It could be earning a good salary or finding the work meaningful, Greenberg said. Maybe it gives you the chance to learn new skills or achieve personal goals. If that's not enough, remember other parts of your life you’re grateful for. “Even though this is happening, it’s only one little piece of your life,” Greenberg noted.
• Be proactive: Make a list of the things that need to be done and come up with more specific strategies on how to deal with them, Casper said. Can you come up with a routine that will help you finish your tasks more easily and efficiently? Break a project into bite-size pieces, which will make you feel less overwhelmed and more in control, Greenberg added.
The study should not be an excuse for bosses to overburden workers, Casper noted. Chronic high workload can lead to burnout and researchers don’t yet know whether a positive stress mindset can be protective in the long run, she added.