Ever gone on vacation in a foreign country? You probably loved it looking back on it. But try to remember what it was actually like to be there. Chances are the best moments were sandwiched by a lot of low-level stress. You weren’t sure how to read the street signs, navigate the subway system, which coins had what values, and whether to tip at a restaurant.
Foreign travel is generally stressful in the moment, and lovely in retrospect. In many ways, so is starting a new job. Here’s why, and what to do about it.
Some Stress Is Good For You, But Too Much Isn’t
Your brain craves predictability. At any given moment, it wants to anticipate what’s going to happen next in order to plan how to act. New jobs are full of unpredictable things. You still don’t know how your new boss will react to different situations. New companies all have their own jargon for things that you’ll need to pick up on. And that’s not to mention all the new forms to fill out and systems and software to navigate.
When your brain is having a hard time predicting what’s going to happen, it goes on high alert. After all, deep in our evolutionary past, unpredictability typically signaled danger (i.e., a hungry mountain lion). A little stress at the start of a new job can be a good thing, even though there’s no danger in sight. Short-term stress can get you energized. A little extra energy on your first weeks can help people see that you’re excited to be there. Also, the stress that comes from uncertainty gets you to pay attention to new things going on around you. The more alert you are to what’s happening, the more quickly you’ll learn how things are done.
However, too much stress can be a problem. In the short-term, you’re more likely to get “over-aroused,” in psychologists’ parlance, which can be a taxing mental and physiological state to remain in and may hamper your productivity at work. In the long term, too much stress can even suppress your immune system. So what can you do to help your brain chill out a bit? A few things:
Design Familiarity Outside Of Work
Try to set things up so that you aren’t dealing with too many new things in your personal life. Even if your job required you to relocate, make sure your home life is as consistent as possible. You may still be unpacking, but try to arrange your bathroom in a way that allows you to go through your morning routine on autopilot pretty much right away. Keep a regular schedule after work. Give your brain at least a few places to retreat to where everything is more or less familiar.
Stick To A Regular Work Routine
Follow the same principle at the office: Try to take the uncertainty out of your workday. Set up your computer as similarly as you can to the computer you’ve used most often in the past. Arrange your desk so you can build habits to know where to find the desk supplies you need most often. Take the same route to and from work so that your commute quickly becomes a routine. Consider eating lunch in the same place for the first few weeks.
Remind Yourself That It’s Temporary
More than anything else, remind yourself that a lot of the stress of a new job is temporary. After about six weeks, you’ll have learned enough about your new responsibilities and will find many of the things in your new environment a lot more predictable. And before long you’ll settle in to the routine. Many years later, you probably won’t even recall how stressed you were when you started your new job.
In fact, you’ll probably remember it as being an exciting time in your life–kind of like that vacation a few summers back.