Employees in every generation have had anxieties about what will be the next stage in their careers. Throughout these generations, there has been at least one constant truth – prolonged anxiety about anything, career paths being just one example, can take a significant toll on our physical health and emotional well-being.
When it comes to navigating careers, I’m a realist. Everything doesn’t necessarily fit our planaround how things should have worked out. We can be disappointed or disgruntled with the job itself, our reporting relationship, the performance and attitudes of other employees, future growth opportunities, and/or the organizational culture. But managing our stress response to these types of situations IS within our control.The optimal strategy is to maintain a level of anxiety that isjust enoughto inspire forward momentum, but not so muchthat getting to the desired outcome becomes secondary to managing the associated physical, mental, and emotional stress factors.
The Anxiety “Sweet Spot.”
Way back in 1908, the “Yerkes-Dodson Law” * demonstrated that performance increases with stress or anxiety, but only up to a certain point (a.k.a.” optimal arousal”). When the level of stress or anxiety becomes too high, the level of performance decreases.
It is human nature to worry (sometimes compulsively) about things that are largely out of our control. That kind of compulsion often deludes us into thinking that if we spend more time worryingabout the future, we will be rewarded with the revelation of a clear path forward. In fact, we know that the opposite is true. Being less distracted by obsessive thoughts allows us to be more present. Our brains use less energy and are, therefore, more receptive to ideas that are percolating unconsciously, ones that ultimately might more readily get us to the desired outcome.
How many times have you heard people say: “Stop thinking about it and just sleep on it?”
*To learn more about how this impacts today’s workplaces, read this Harvard Business Review article: Are You Too Stressed to Be Productive? Or Not Stressed Enough?