If you want to make a dent in your to-do list, try to relax.iStock

Everything is relative, especially when you're stressed.

Researchers have found that the emotional energy you spend worrying about how little time you have is actually making you feel more pressed for time than you would be if you worried less.

"Beyond the number of activities actually competing for their time, emotional conflict between activities makes consumers feel that they have even less time," the authors write in the Journal of Marketing Research. "Emotions such as guilt about where time is being spent or fear over loss of income both generate stress, and make a person feel more pressed for time than they actually are."

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The study participants had to make a list of tasks, then imagine doing them in the order they wished. Then, they were told to imagine the events competing with each other for resources like time, money or emotions. When it came to conflicting events, participants not only felt more anxious, but also reported feeling more pressed for time to complete them.

What to do: When anxiety starts to creep up as you're thinking about your to-do list, the researchers recommended focusing on the physical symptoms first, like becoming conscious of your faster breathing and transitioning into slower, deeper breaths.

Once you feel more in control of your body's response to the stress, then tackle the emotional "residue" by converting that nervous anxiety into a similar kind of high-energy feeling – like motivation or anticipation of how good you'll feel once it's done – that will help refocus you on the practical steps to tackle the task at hand.

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