A recent study found that anxious people are not able to make good decisions when life is uncertain and unpredictable (Browning et al., 2015). Anxious people are unable to predict when bad outcomes will occur in changing environments, and this can lead to bad decisions. In the study, participants were asked to choose between two shapes, one of which delivered an electric shock the majority of the time. In order to avoid getting shocked, participants had to determine which of the shapes were delivering the most shocks. Sometimes it would stay the same for a long time, where one shape delivered most of the shocks, and sometimes it would change, where the most shocks were delivered by the other shape, then change to the other and vice versa more frequently.
It turns out that participants who were highly anxious were shocked more frequently than participants who were less anxious. What this shows is that anxious people have difficulty figuring out if they are in a stable or volatile environment, and as a result, they had difficulty making decisions in uncertain situations. The study also showed that anxious participants had pupils that did not dilate as much as less anxious participants when confronted with new and changing information, such as unstable environments where a decision needs to be made where a positive outcome is not obvious. This shows that anxious people are not able to process information that changes rapidly.
As this study shows, anxiety makes you prone to bad decisions amid uncertainty and unpredictability, and that can lead to failure in multiple areas of your life, like in relationships and your career. So when your partner gets angry with you, it could be that your partner was just in a bad mood that day, or there has been a major change in their feelings towards you. When you have anxiety, you will have difficulty making good decisions amid the uncertainty of your partner getting angry with you, and you have difficulty making out if the relationship is stable or not. So the anxiety makes you prone to pick the wrong decision, and if you believe the relationship is unstable, you make the situation worse if it was just your partner in a bad mood that day. On the other hand, anxiety can make you prone to believe that the relationship is stable, when in actuality it is unstable and your trivialization of the situation also makes it worse.
Another example is in your career. You are in a work setting, and you see people getting laid off all around you. If you have anxiety, you will have difficulty making good decisions amid the uncertainty of your job and you could be next to be laid off, or it could be that you are still employed as you do your job well. So the anxiety makes you prone to choose bad decisions, and you jeopardize your severance package (if you were to be laid off, and you make the decision to avoid, thereby weakening your position to get a good severance), or you jeopardize your job (if they were going to keep you, and your anxiety makes you worry so much about losing your job that you are not productive)…all because you read the situation wrong by letting your anxiety get the best of you.
So you see how anxiety plays a role in making bad decisions amid uncertainty and unpredictability, and this can have a negative impact on your relationships and career.
The following are some tips to make better decisions when you are anxious:
- Don’t react right away
Big decisions that have big implications for your life or another person’s life need time to figure out all the implications of each decision and the pros and cons of each decision. Let it marinate for a while, as there is no need to rush big decisions. Sleep on it.
- Consult with others
If you have a big decision to make, but feel highly anxious about, why not seek out another person who is familiar with the situation and can provide some important feedback?
- Calm yourself
Don’t make decisions when you are anxious. Calm yourself. There are various ways to calm yourself immediately, such as conscious breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visual imagery and relaxation, just to name a few.