Updated: Jan 27, 2021
When you feel threatened, your body goes through a natural response. The sympathetic nervous system takes over and starts kicking in the fight or flight response. Your hands get clammy as blood is redistributed to the legs. Your heart beats faster. A flood of adrenaline and cortisol rush through your body. You become more alert. Your body is more than equipped to tackle the perceived threat. The problem is that the threat isn’t a predator, but a stack of homework due tomorrow that you haven’t started.
Your body and brain have evolved over thousands of years to deal with predators. And it is very good at running away or fighting them. However, it's not the time to start running away or beating things up when tackling exam review, homework, projects, and impending events. The blood pooling in your legs is best put in your brain when answering an exam question. The anxiety we experience today is different from the anxiety of our ancestors.
The stress your ancestors experienced in the paleolithic era probably stemmed from a few sources. The main ones are the fear of predators, the urge to acquire sustenance, and children's care. Contrast that with the modern individual bombarded with schedules, deadlines, children, commitments, studies, social commitments, homework, appointments, and more. Worst of all, our sources of stress can’t be physically fought or ran away from, and when they linger on our minds, our anxiety grows. When our anxiety grows, we are robbed of the calm state of mind that lets us be our most productive. We are constantly on edge, drawing blanks, and making simple mistakes. Worst case, you might start irrationally running away from your work and end up with a slippery slope where you’re constantly procrastinating and stressing.
Anxiety is not good. But it is a built-in part of our lives, and managing it correctly can make a huge difference to our work and peace of mind. There are a few ways to deal with this.
Firstly, remember that it’s not life or death. A project due 3 days from now is not the same as a carnivorous predator. Remind yourself that while what’s at stake is serious, it's not something you should be running away from. When you start mistaking a math question as a lion, your brain will shut down its thinking to focus on survival. Remember, life will always go on, you happen to have things to get done.
Secondly, live in the moment. Mild short term stress can be useful to get motivated. It always takes a little bit of pressure to start working on something. However, it’s not okay to feel anxiety at the wrong time. Stay in the present. Putting it this way, extra stress when lying awake at night isn’t useful for finishing a project due in two days. The way you can start living in the moment is by planning extensively, staying productive, and knowing when to relax. Plan your schedule and tasks out. If you know you’re studying from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm, you will only be worrying about it in that time frame. Additionally, keeping on top of things, and getting things done always means fewer things to worry about. Finally, knowing when to relax is the crux of living in the moment. Don’t let thoughts of work occupy you when you’re relaxing. It will defeat the point of taking a break. But by planning and staying productive, it should be easier to relax.
Finally, find outlets. No matter what, you can still feel overwhelmed. The demands of modern society aren’t something to scoff at, and anxiety can still pile up. To overcome this, you need to find extracurriculars or things you like to do that remove stress. This can be working out, journaling, painting, playing, and other fun stuff. So long it's something you enjoy and relaxes you. But spending time with loved ones can also be an anti-stress agent. Communicating how stressed you are to a loved one can be a powerful catharsis, and receiving the right care, advice, and motivation can relieve stress. It's perfectly okay to seek help when feeling overwhelmed.
As we continue to grow as adults, we’ll start to find society’s pressures start to mount. As a result, we get more anxious and stressed. But getting overly anxious is not the best way to deal with our problems. But by reminding ourselves that our problems aren’t life and death, living in the moment, and finding emotional outlets, we can better manage our stress and stay productive.