Anxiety. Stress. Panic. Emotional chaos. All these distressing feelings add up to one thing. MISERY.

In this type of mindset, being productive feels impossible. Our brains become bogged down with every detail and we dwell on the things we have no control over. During times of high stress and anxiety, we can take steps to harness those feelings and regain our sense of power and productivity. 

Harnessing Thoughts

Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are the trifecta that impact our daily lives. Given all the stressors we face at any given time, it is understandable that the “feeling” aspect of that equation can override the system and run the show sometimes. 

It can be useful to examine the underlying thoughts that surround a particular feeling, to find out if there are any unhelpful or even inaccurate ones that keep us trapped in the status quo. An easy way to trace the thoughts behind our anxiety is to ask ourselves a few questions. 

  • When did this feeling of anxiety begin?
  • Does this anxiety stem from a particular source?
  • What are my automatic thoughts about the situation?
  • Is there another way to look at the situation that can reduce stress?

The thoughts that drive anxiety are sometimes rooted in a need for perfection or feeling as though circumstances are out of one’s control. People who are prone to high anxiety can benefit from noticing thoughts that are unrealistically self-critical or rooted in a need for control. For example, if someone is feeling anxious about a deadline for a work project, they may identify the thought “if I don’t meet the deadline, I might lose my job.”  Whether or not that thought is accurate, it is destructive to allow it to burden the mind during this time where focus is needed. A thought like this can be redirected toward something more helpful such as, “I am focusing my attention to meet this deadline.” 

Shifting our thoughts has surprising outcomes, since much of what we believe stems from the way we allow ourselves to look at situations. 

Harnessing Behaviors

Thoughts and feelings represent our inner landscape, but behaviors represent the final step in making changes in real time. When we can identify specific behaviors to work on and start living those actions in everyday life, our thoughts and feelings about ourselves can also start to improve. 

Using the example from above, we can come up with behaviors to help reinforce the new thought, “I am focusing my attention to meet this deadline.” Some supporting behaviors for that thought might include creating a to-do list and prioritizing the task to simplify the project and shutting out distractions by silencing phones and limiting interruptions from co-workers. 

Our thoughts and behaviors have powerful effects on the way we feel. Altering how we think and act can make a big difference in how we feel.

Energizing Steps for Productivity

Anxiety, at its core, is misdirected energy. We can use that energy to get things done. It doesn’t have to keep us stuck and spinning our wheels.

  • Harness anxiety into intention: 

If you feel anxiety creeping in, take a moment and observe where you feel it within your body. As you notice the anxiety sensations in your body, envision those feelings transforming into power that you can use to get things done. What can you do with this power? What tasks can you accomplish?

  • Use anxiety as body fuel: 

Rather than allowing anxiety to undermine your day, use it to propel you forward. Activities that can use anxiety as fuel include running, weightlifting, and cardio-kickboxing. The workouts will help you burn off the anxiety and promote a sense of relaxation that can boost your level of concentration.

  • Acting as-if: 

Psych out your anxiety with your acting skills. Even if you are feeling anxious and stuck, envision that you are confident and getting things done. What would you be doing if you felt confident and productive? Try out some of the behaviors. You may discover that the behaviors help you shift your mindset.

Anxiety doesn’t have to keep you from achieving your goals. If harnessed, it can become a useful strategy for improving your productivity. 


  • Dr. Teyhou Smyth

    Performance Coach, Adjunct Professor of Psychology, Keynote Speaker, Licensed Therapist (#115137)

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