Anxiety increases bad decision-making

By Shayna Brouker • Published: June 6th, 2016
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If you want to make better decisions, don’t sweat the small stuff. Really. A study published recently in the journal Cell Press found that those suffering from anxiety lack clear judgment. That is, they perceive non-threatening things as dangerous and tend to blow things out of proportion. For example, an anxious person might feel like a bad parent for being late to pick up their child at school.

Neurobiology researchers in Israel came to this conclusion by asking people with and without anxiety to link three different tones with one of three outcomes: losing money, winning money or no change at all. Then they played one of 15 tones and asked the participants if they had heard it before. Guessing correctly resulted in winning money while guessing incorrectly lost them money.

Those suffering from anxiety were more likely than their calmer peers to imagine they’d heard the sound before. They also showed more activity in the part of the brain that processes fear.

So what’s a nervous Nelly to do? The researchers suggested harnessing anxiety to make good rather than poor decisions. Remind yourself that anxiety comes with trying times, but that you can handle it. Let it motivate you to tackle a tough problem.

But if anxiety is crippling you, it’s time to get help. Feeling panicked and afraid, experiencing shortness of breath, nausea, dry mouth and dizziness are all signs of anxiety in need of treatment. Anxiety can be treated by a combination of drug therapy, psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Those methods and simple relaxation techniques can help you get a handle on stress — and better decisions.