The One Way Stress Makes You BETTER at Your Job

No one wants to be stressed out at work, but do we have a choice? We’re all being asked to do more with less, and do it faster. So stress is a natural reaction to high expectations and pressure.


Stress can cause burnout, employee turnover, frustration and anger around the office. But research suggests there may be ONE upside to work-related anxiety that might surprise you.


Stress might cause you to make more accurate decisions.


This is Your Brain on Stress


That’s right – it’s possible that people who feel anxious might be better judges of possible outcomes and problems, and therefore make better decisions. (In this interesting gender-study, for example, men in particular made very risky decisions under pressure, while women tended to take fewer risks and make more accurate judgements, even under the same pressure.) But men and women both might get more eerily accurate at making decisions the more pressure they’re under. From hitting high notes while singing to hitting targets at the gun range, stress seems to correlate with precision.


Wonder why that is? Me, too.


It may have something to do with stress making us more pessimistic. For years we’ve known that pessimists make more realistic, accurate predictions about the future than optimists. Optimists can tend to think big and envision the future positively, so their expectations of the future aren’t always realistic. It’s possible that under anxiety, we all get a little more pessimistic, and because of that, our accuracy gets better.


Being the Boss of Stress


For whatever reason, it happens. Stress makes you more accurate. So… what are you going to do about it?


The next time you feel anxious, here’s how you can use it to your advantage:

  • Reevaluate your current goals. Don’t cross any of them off in a fit of pessimism, but take a realistic look at whether your timeline needs to be adjusted.
  • Be a star at work. Use your accuracy to your advantage and speak up in meetings where the team is making plans.
  • Plan a vacation or other personal experience. Your accuracy will make you great at picking the best B&B! You’ll be less likely to get duped by flowery language or wide angle photography.


Stress is unpleasant, but it doesn’t have to be a completely terrible experience. One great book on using stress to your advantage is The Upside of Stress, by Kelly McGonigal. In her research, stress was most damaging only if you THOUGHT it would hurt you. In fact, if you follow her steps, you can actually use stress to your advantage.

So if you want to be better at your job, don’t freak out the moment you feel stressed. Lean in to the stress, show off your awesome, accurate decision-making, and make stress work for you.