Why Anticipating Stress Can Ruin More Than Just Your Day
Hint: you might not be able to remember why.
Yes, there is such thing as getting up on the wrong side of the bed. Research has shown that how you wake up is one of the most important factors in deciding the course of your day.
A new study published in The Journals of Gerontology found that waking up anticipating a stressful day does more than just put you in a crabby mood -- it affects your working memory, too. Even if stressful events do not occur, the mental preparation for them will slow your ability to learn and retain information for the rest of the day.
Two-hundred-forty adult participants were questioned via smartphone every morning for two weeks about the stress they anticipated for the day. They were questioned five more times throughout the day to track their stress levels, and once before bed about tomorrow’s stress anticipation. Five working memory tests were also administered throughout the day.
Results showed that those with higher stress anticipation levels in the morning performed poorly on the working memory tasks in comparison to those reporting lower stress anticipation levels.
While your long-term memory will be just fine, a decreased working memory will cause you to be more distracted and prone to making mistakes -- potentially even life-threatening ones.
“Looking at this research in the context of healthy aging, there are certain high stakes cognitive errors that older adults can make. Taking the wrong pill or making a mistake while driving can all have catastrophic impacts,” warns Martin Sliwinski, one of the authors of the study and director of the Center for Healthy Aging at Penn State. Take a chill pill, so you won’t accidentally take the wrong pill.
But don’t stress about stressing -- there’s good news. Stress anticipation the night before had no effect on working memory performance the following day, so you can just sleep it off.If you’re prone to hopping on your phone first thing in the morning, Sliwinski recommends you use it to your advantage. “Your phone can remind you to do some deep breathing relaxation before you start your day,” he says. There are plenty of apps, including Headspace and Calm, that will put you in the right mindset and make your day more productive than those early morning emails would.