Hyun, Sliwinski, and Smyth have learned that anticipating stressful situations has the same sort of negative effects on our cognitive performance as actually experiencing stress. It is particularly important to minimize stress via design whenever possible because some stressful design-related experiences can be anticipated (for example, people may return to workplaces with ambient stressors regularly). The researchers report that they investigated “the association between stress anticipated for the upcoming day and cognitive function later on that day. . . anticipatory processes [anticipating stress] can produce harmful effects on cognitive functioning that are independent of everyday stress experiences.” So, anticipating stress has a significant effect on mental performance, regardless of actual stress experienced.
Jinshil Hyun, Martin Sliwinski, and Joshua Smyth. “Waking Up On the Wrong Side of the Bed: The Effects of Stress Anticipation on Working Memory in Daily Life.” The Journals of Gerontology, Series B, in press, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gby042