Some of the things you do to mitigate stress in your professional life might be making you feel more frazzled and anxious, says Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and author of “Smart Thinking,” “The Habits of Effective Leadership,” “Smart Change” and “Brain Briefs” (with co-author Bob Duke).
In a Sept. 5 article on FastCompany.com, Markman points to three common stress-relieving mechanisms that can work in reverse.
Mistake No. 1 is isolating yourself.
“‘If only I can get a few hours alone this week to really focus, I’ll be able to get a better handle on this,’ you may think. But this habit might only make things worse. In fact, one way to help yourself get productive work done while you’re stressed is to work together in a group,” Markman says. “After all …(a) psychologically hardwired lesson from humans’ evolutionary past was safety in numbers. When we’re feeling threatened, we gravitate toward teams. Your brain will likely be able to stay more focused in stressful situations when you’re working with others than when you try to hack away at a problem on your own.”
Mistake No. 2 is giving up downtime.
“If you work for a company that’s struggling to survive, you may see no end in sight to the high-pressure environment you’re working within,” Markman says. “In cases like these, you need to find ways to escape at least for a while. Unfortunately, many people’s first reaction is to do the reverse—cutting back on personal time in order to slog through a tough situation.” He suggests yoga and mindfulness exercises. “No, they won’t eliminate your dread of what might still be on the horizon, but they can dampen the arousal that’s getting the best of you right now,” Markman says. Or do things you enjoy most—golf, listen to loud music, go to a movie, get some exercise. Whatever the activity, just make sure it’s engaging and distracting, at least in the short term.
Mistake No. 3 is losing perspective.
Stress can cause us to blow things out of proportion and catastrophize our situation. Markman suggests thinking about worst-case scenarios, but in a logical, methodical way. “When we’re under stress we can’t seem to control or mitigate, we tend to believe that bad outcomes will be much worse than they typically prove to be in reality,” he says. “Just telling yourself that you’re worrying needlessly isn’t likely to de-stress the situation—of course you’re going to feel what you’re going to feel. But to help you manage those feelings, try just accepting the worst imaginable outcome rather than struggling to avoid it with everything you’ve got. This way, if it really does come to pass, you may find yourself more resilient and adaptable than you’d thought.”