To perform better under pressure, consider embracing your anxiety. Research suggests that welcoming stress may be more helpful than trying to calm down.

That’s right. Attempting to get rid of stress is counterproductive and can amplify your anxiety, making you feel more stressed.

We’re surrounded by messages that tell us stress is unhealthy: stress hurts our immune system, stress jeopardizes our relationships, stress destroys our ability to make sound decisions. While these risks are certainly real and merit acknowledgement, researchers at Yale University have found evidence indicating that work-related stress can positively affect employee productivity and performance.

Trying to replace stress with positive thoughts or behaviors is tends to be an ineffective coping mechanism when it comes to managing high stress levels. People are better off channeling their stress into energy to get things done, according to a study conducted by the Decision Lab at Harvard Business School. So, what is the secret to re-purposing the stress you thought was killing you? How can people manage stress so as to render its function constructive?

Whether or not stress makes us more productive, Art Markman writes in a recent article for Fast Company, “depends on something called the Yerkes-Dodson curve, a theory…which relates the amount of motivational energy a person may possess to how well they’ll perform at a given task.” Markman goes on to explain how, at low levels of arousal, most people underperform–they aren’t motivated to excel, and they don’t get much done as a result.

Dave Rocker

The concept represented by the Yerkes-Dodson curve may seem familiar to those people who are most productive at times when they are busiest. Conversely, having a surplus of free time often encourages complacency and makes people feel lazy.

At its most basic level, stress serves an important evolutionary purpose. Stress signals our attention–it motivates us to accomplish whatever needs to get done. And while human beings display varying capacities to deal with stress (some folks thrive under pressure; others are paralyzed by it), some people need a certain amount of stress to be productive. To help you use stress to your advantage, here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind:


  • Regard stress as a sign you care about something, rather than viewing stress as a reason to panic.

  • Focus on the task at hand–not the emotion you feel.

  • Delegate work, if possible, and reach out to others for support.

  • Prioritize self-care: good sleep habits, nutrition, exercise, etc.

  • Reach out to a professional if the stress you feel is debilitating, or if it is interfering with your ability to function.


  • Make important decisions in haste, or while in an anxious state. In these situations, stress can skew personal judgment.

  • Assume your stress will last forever. It won’t.

  • Worry about things that are outside your control.

  • Spend time with people who are negative–anxiety is contagious.

  • Project your upset onto other people.


  • This too shall pass.