When I moved from a two-bedroom apartment into a studio a few months ago, I was elated. No roommates! Being naked whenever I wanted!
But I was also stressed as hell, because moving is one of the most stressful things you can do. Even though I couldn't control everything that happens during a move (RIP, the lamp that shattered in the moving truck), I found it helpful to plan it all out, down to the minute details, including the estimated time it would take for the moving company to take all my boxes from one place to another. Oh, and a detailed contingency plan should any of the furniture not fit into the new place.
I knew that control was an illusion, but mapping it all out from start to finish kept me from tearing my hair out. As it turns out, meticulous planning is a pretty common and effective way of de-stressing. Eva Stubits, PhD, a Houston-based clinical psychologist who specializes in stress management, says that it helps you feel like you have a hand in what's going to happen, and it gives you a sense of purpose. So planning is partly about feeling as if you have some control over your circumstances, and about feeling as prepared as possible for whatever stressful event you're anticipating.
When you plan something, you’re being proactive, and whenever you’re proactive and trying to find a solution to a problem, you’re going to feel better about yourself.
Eva Stubits, PhD
"When you plan something, you’re being proactive, and whenever you’re proactive and trying to find a solution to a problem, you’re going to feel better about yourself," Dr. Stubits says. "You’re going to have more of a sense of, I can do this, I can handle this, which in and of itself is going to make the situation less stressful."
It's especially helpful if you literally make lists of what you have to do, or everything you expect might happen, whether you have a big work trip coming, or you're applying or interviewing for a new job.
"It gives you a sense of direction, and it also gets ideas out from inside you, outside of your head," Dr. Stubits says. "There’s something about putting it down on paper that helps de-stress, that helps people feel like they have more of a sense of productiveness."
In fact, a 2011 survey involving 3,000 participants found that planning is such an effective stress-management technique, because it can help you fight stress before it even starts.
Of course, de-stressing isn't one-size-fits-all, and what works for one person might not work for someone else. But the next time you're about to do something that feels too overwhelming, writing down everything you need to do and what you're worried about might be helpful.