Well-Being//

How to Prepare for Stress Before It Happens

Research shows we can experience “meta-stress,” where we get overwhelmed by the idea of potential oncoming stressors. This is how to fight back.

When you know a high-stress event is coming up, it’s natural to stress yourself out before it even happens. That anticipation can cause you to spiral down a rabbit hole of “what ifs,” and those thoughts can feel both mentally and emotionally taxing. 

Researchers say this common pattern is called “meta-stress,” and it occurs when you worry about stress in advance. And while tense situations are bound to happen in our personal and professional lives, there are ways to alleviate those uneasy feelings beforehand, and save yourself from the buildup of anxious thoughts that can take a toll on your well-being. 

Here are a few ways to mitigate potential stressors before they get the best of you.

Work in the way that works for you

Research shows there’s a connection between your body’s internal clock and your stress levels: When you’re fighting against your body’s natural working hours, any small hiccup can feel distressing, and you end up feeling tired, unproductive, and overwhelmed. That’s why experts say it can be helpful to understand your internal rhythm to manage stress on a broader scale. “There are principles we can use to figure out the schedules that allow us to do better work and have more time for rest,” Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D, author of Rest and The Distraction Addiction, tells Thrive. Try out different schedules to figure out what works best for you, he suggests — and work in the way that feels most optimal. When you align yourself with your physiological clock, you can work smarter, which in turn helps to balance out your stress levels.

Set boundaries

We live lives that are embedded with evolving technologies and ongoing screen-time, so stressors can occasionally surface at inopportune moments, causing you anxiety even when you’re not at work. While it’s not always possible to avoid those stressors entirely, setting boundaries with your work and your devices can help you mitigate some of those anxious feelings. Studies have shown that the mere expectation of checking work email after hours can be stressful on workers, and anticipating those emails before they come can hinder our time outside of the office. By making a conscious effort to leave work at work, you can embrace a healthier work-life integration and feel better about powering off at the end of the day.

Keep communication clear

Stress is often a byproduct of communication errors, and studies show that prioritising clear, direct interactions with others can help you avoid miscommunications that can take a toll on your mental well-being. For example, if you know that you have a pending deadline and feel overwhelmed by your workload, communicating that concern — clearly, in advance of that deadline, and with a plan of action — to your manager can save you from stress down the line. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- Marcus Aurelius

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