Channel Your Stress and Anxiety Into Drive and Inspiration

Last Updated May 26, 2010 8:17 PM EDT

Moon LaunchRocket fuel has tremendous destructive power. But channel it properly, and it'll take you to the moon. It's the same thing for nuclear energy, except way more power.

Now, let's apply that same concept to people. Stimulants like caffeine can make you wired and crazy, but used the right way, they can focus and fuel your drive and inspiration. Maybe that's why they're often prescribed for ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).

Now, if you're the kind of person who has little stress or anxiety in your life, that's great. Never had a panic attack? Excellent. The rest of us, being human, have roughly seven choices when it comes to dealing with our stress and anxiety:

  1. Stressed?Medicate it
  2. Meditate it
  3. Exercise it
  4. Understand it
  5. Shrink it
  6. Talk it
  7. Let it spiral out of control
Most of us employ some combination of the first six with reasonable success. Having had two panic attacks myself, I'm sure we can all agree that number seven is definitely out. And I'm guessing we've all figured out that drugs and alcohol, while fun, are ineffective in the long run.

The point is that there's an eighth option: channel your stress to inspire and drive you at work. That's exactly what lots of executives and leaders do.

Is that healthy? As the sole means of dealing with stress and anxiety, probably not. But as a component of your stress management strategy, as some combination of the above list, I could be wrong, but I think that's how many if not most successful people do it. It's certainly in my playbook.

After all, you know that physical stress can enhance focus and productivity. That's what sports is all about. Why not mental stress? Isn't necessity the mother of invention? And don't most of us feed off that pressure or deadline to really take our game to the next level and deliver outstanding results? Well, it only works if you learn how to channel it.

So, now that I've convinced you there's at least some logic to this, in all seriousness, it really does come down to balance. Balance and five tips I've learned over decades of working that fine line between near panic and high performance:

  • Give up. With a hard deadline of the following morning, having stared at a list of about a thousand ideas for a tagline until my eyes were blurry, I finally said screw it and grabbed a glass of wine. As my mind wandered, that's when the perfect tagline hit me.
  • Don't leave critical stuff for the very last minute. You'll be most effective if you're confident you'll have enough time to get things done. Leave yourself an extra day to make tweaks or an out of some sort in case everything blows up.
  • Don't take your stress out on others. Leaders who perform at a high level while demotivating everyone around them are bad leaders. Leaders who take it out on family members become very lonely leaders. Either way, it's ineffective.
  • Get some alone time so you can focus. Some with crazy family lives focus great at work. Others, like me, work more effectively at home. Just find a place where you're not distracted so you can relax and channel that pressure most effectively.
  • Watch out for burnout. If the stress gets to be too much, either all at once or over an extended period of time, balance it out with some of the other techniques. Also, learn to recognize the signs of burnout, which may require more drastic measures.
Learn more:
  1. Managers: How to Lead Under Fire
  2. 7 Signs You're Creating Your Own Workplace Stress
  3. Dealing With Work Stress and Burnout
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