How to Channel Work and Academic Stress Into Productive Energy

Today’s stress levels in millenials are building to insurmountable highs.

With the burden of student loans for colleges and standardized tests it takes to get into those colleges weighing heavily on today’s youth, it takes strategizing to combat stress. Last week’s New York Times magazine featured an article titled “Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?”, which places students into one of two categories: warriors vs. worriers. While warriors take stress and turn it into energy in order to succeed in a pressure-filled scenario, worriers let the stress overcome them and they crumple under pressure. IQ tests show that while these “worrier” students are more than capable of the intellectual material, their coping mechanisms during test taking severely affects their scores.

There are ways to successfully confront stress and concisely pinpoint weak areas to change the outcome both in test-taking situations and in workplaces later on in life. An experiment at Harvard University used a group of students taking the GRE to show that when students simply read the statement “recent research suggests that people who feel anxious during a test might actually do better” before taking a test, they scored on average 50 points higher in the analysis section than the control group that did not read this statement. This wasn’t simply a placebo effect where reading the statement helped calm their nerves. The experimental group had tested for high levels of stress through giving saliva samples the day before and were used in the group because of their initially high stress levels. Reading the statement allowed those predisposed to stress to channel that energy into something positive. 

While standardized tests can set up students for failure, continual academic competition can actually prepare students for stressful scenarios so they can better handle high anxiety. In scenarios where the pressure is on, stress can actually benefit both the warriors and the worriers of the group so each can perform well. As the New York Times article suggests:

“Maybe the best thing about academic competitions is that they benefit both Warriors and Worriers equally. The Warriors get the thrilling intensity their minds are suited for, where they can shine. The Worriers get the gradual stress inoculation they need, so that one day they can do more than just tolerate stress — they can embrace it. And through the cycle of preparation, performance and recovery, what they learn becomes ingrained.”

But how do these stress coping techniques affect professionals who are dealing with time-management issues and stress in their careers? Channeling stress into a motivating factor is comparable to channeling periods of high-energy into productivity. “The Energy Project” draws on these principles of harnessing the science of high performance in order to help companies achieve optimal outcomes. By drawing on individual performance and using effective practices used to combat the constant time energy flux, the project seeks to drive higher levels of engagement, production, and innovation in the professional world. In recognizing that unlike machines, humans aren’t designed to expend energy continuously but rather fluctuate between spending and recovering energy, the research behind the project suggests that the quality of time spent on projects is far more important than the quantity of time.

Energy Project CEO Tony Schwartz considers himself a solid example. He wrote his most recent books using his own guiding principles of taking breaks and then returning to work in 90-minute bursts of energy and recovery and was able to write the books in half the time it took to write his first ones. Now, this is all well and good for someone who is successfully self-employed, but what about those who have to punch the clock, put in face time, and have their derrière’s in chairs for a minimum of eight hours a day? There’s hope for them yet. Laying out a time table for productivity is key in harnessing energy and meeting goals.

For example, Mondays are typically low-energy days for most returning from the weekend, so using those days to set out goals for the week and accomplish smaller menial tasks is an excellent use of a non-peak day. Then, using Tuesday-Thursday to tackle long term projects and goals and Friday to wrap it up would be a good balance of energies throughout the week. Other Energy Project tips include staying active and moving throughout the day, focusing on the positive and keeping an emotional journey about highs and lows.

Maybe you hit a wall everyday at 3 p.m. and just need a 15-minute burst of energy and activity. Go outside, take a walk, grab a carbonated beverage. By slightly altering your routine and recognizing that unlike the machine on your desk, you do not have an endless power source, you can begin to optimize output.

By combining the techniques of “The Energy Project” and understanding that stress is a naturally occurring biological factor, millenials can combat these deterrents to productivity and success. Consistently testing yourself academically while in school by placing yourself in competition with others and then professionally by measuring your own highs and lows can create at least a blueprint to map out a steadfast path.

If all else fails and you find yourself in a cold sweat panic, just remember this tip, “Feel your feet, hold your fire.” Recognize that you are grounded to the earth and that the fire within is just energy waiting to take shape.