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What's the difference between productive and unproductive stress?

When we think of the word 'stress' our initial thoughts associated with it are negative. You generally try everything you can to deal with it, which could include exercise, meditation or sleep.

Unfortunately, what many people don't know is that we actually require an adequate amount of stress in our everyday lives. 'Stress' is simply what drives and motivates us to do our day-to-day activities and move forward in life. Essentially, what this means is that it's not about how to remove stress from our lives, but how to recognise the difference between the 'productive' and 'unproductive' stress and manage it accordingly. 

How we do define 'productive' stress?

Everyone experiences some amount of stress in their lives, more than we may even realise. Because of this, it's important to try create a positive perception of what 'productive' stress is.

Productive stress helps motivate us to get a job done in a more attentive manner, allowing us to achieve unexpectedly good results. You may find yourself in situations where you feel anxious and overwhelmed such as right before an interview or when you are due to meet a deadline. In this state your mindset unconsciously shifts into 'productive mode', allowing you to accomplish what it is you need to do as soon as possible. It's kind of like getting an adrenaline kick from being under pressure.

So then what is 'unproductive' stress?

Unproductive stress is different. It can be known as an emotional stress that stems from experiencing many different things all at the same time. It can cause wear and tear on your body, leaving you to also feel overwhelmed and further burn out, weakening your immune system. This may eventually lead to anxiety and depression. This can be a real detriment on your life, leading you to create the many bad habits of overeating, smoking and feeling fatigued. Having too much cortisol caused by unproductive stress can impact your body, making it harder to lose weight and weakening your immune system. Thankfully there are several ways to address this type of stress, and your first step is recognising that you are feeling this way. From there seeking professional help from a coach can assist you with building skills in stress management and help reset your mindset.

How do we manage the two stresses?

By understanding neuroscience, we can see that there's an ideal level of stress someone should be experiencing to be productive. What this means is that you simply won't do your best if you're not under some sort of pressure of stress. Though, if you are someone who stresses too much or experiences high levels of stress, this is known to be because of your pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain used for rational thinking) beginning to drop its functionality. Also, because of the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for your fight-or-flight response), which stops functioning to differentiate between a life threatening situation and simple problems. 

Managing your stress starts with you. Depending on the person, cultivating your mindset to view stress as a positive is a skill that is easy to learn. By incorporating various positive psychology techniques we can build our resilience to stress and avoid the amygdala hijack in more circumstances. You can train your mindset so that the unproductive stress you might experience has less of an impact on your body and brain. 

So remember to not allow the effects of unproductive stress overtake your life; learn to use it with positive intentions to support your health and lead a high performance life.

Vanessa Bennett is the CEO of Next Evolution Performance – a global high performance coaching business focused on helping leaders, business owners, individuals and teams to maximise performance and to decrease their overall effort to ensure that high performance and, therefore, profitability is sustainable.

Vanessa has over 20 years of experience in the financial services and health and fitness professions. She was the head of financial adviser distribution for Dimensional Fund Advisors, managing a team of 11 people with assets under management growing from $1 billion to over $9 billion during her tenure of over eight  years. Prior to that she held senior sales roles at Macquarie Bank.

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