Waiting for a college acceptance letter, an interview call back, preparing to propose to your partner, or a bid on a house, the anticipation of the outcome can be more stressful than the result itself. People have a wide range of physical and emotional experiences while they’re anticipating an event. You may find yourself unable to sleep or experiencing stomach problems. Your mind might be racing and you may find comfort in eating junk food. Your whole body might feel tense, your hands cold and clammy or just feeling terrified in general, all while you sit and wait.
Stress, even if it’s acute, can take a significant toll on the body, increasing the likelihood of illness and a longer recovery from infections. During stressful times, it’s easy to make poor lifestyle decisions such as exercising less, eating unhealthily and ingesting substances like alcohol or illicit drugs. Long after the outcome is reached, these decisions can have long lasting consequences.
This stress comes from a few common sources. For one, many people may feel stressed at the thought of uncertainties. If you have no idea who will attend your presentation or how people will react to your college essay it can increase anxiety as it feels like you have no control of the situation. Regain that feeling of control by identifying the uncertainties. Make a list of the things you don’t know about with regards to what you are anticipating. This will give you something concrete to think about which can help stress by preventing your mind from wandering to unrealistic conclusions that only perpetuate stress.
The situations that cause the most anticipation stress are the ones we are most invested in. The thought of the outcome being anything other than what we want can be terrifying. Face this fear head on and imagine the best and worst case scenario, as positive situations can be stressful as well.
Picture exactly what you’re anxiously awaiting in detail. Where will you be? How will the news be delivered to you? How will you feel? What will you do? With a specific visualization such as this in your mind, a sense of predictability can be restored. While you may not know the official result, you will have already reviewed your reaction in your mind.
Another way to increase predictability is to rehearse. Take time to rehearse your speech, your proposal or what you will say to your realtor if the bid is accepted. This will help your actions be more automatic so you can repeat them when needed.
The most helpful, and yet the most difficult, thing to do when feeling high anticipation stress is to reduce the importance of the event. Remember that while a negative result might feel devastating in the moment, you have been through similarly disappointing moments before and you have survived. Remind yourself that one event does not define you as a person. Sometimes making a list of what makes you, you can be an eye-opener.
An anticipatory event can become so big and take up so much of your life that you can forget you have other aspects to your life. Ration your feelings so they do not consume your entire day. Allow yourself 1 hour each day to feel the anticipation stress and then move on to something else. This will help keep your stress from becoming out of control and help you better prepare for the emotions that will come with the outcome you are waiting for.
How do you manage your stress when anticipating something?