ONEAnyone who has ever tried to make a seemingly simple choice while stressed or anxious probably knows that both emotional states can seriously impede making the right decisions. In fact, you may be struggling with a choice more than usual yet make a not-so-good call at the end. If you think that stress and anxiety are biologically programmed to help us overcome predators and other threats, you would think that they would work in his favor to make good choices, You knowsurvive in the savannah. So what explains the relationship between stress and decision making that is not so important?
Below, Caroline Leaf, PhD — neuroscientist and Clearing the mental chaos author and founder of the NeuroCycle app – and Sage Grazer, LCSW, co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of the mental health startup Frame, outline ways in which stress and anxiety disrupt the decision-making process and advise on how to ensure you do so. calls both large and small from a healthy, calm and well-reasoned place.
Anxiety, stress and decision making: Why not make good choices under pressure
First and foremost, Dr. Leaf describes stress as a “warning signal” and stress as a “state of being,” so there is some distinction between the two experiences. However, stress can cause stress and stress can cause stress, so they can be interconnected in many ways.
Initially, stress alerts your brain and body that something potentially harmful is happening to you, and this puts your body in what Dr. Leaf calls it a state of positive stress. In this state, your physiology changes. These changes include increased blood flow and oxygen levels, which support optimal brain function. “[In this scenario]y“You will have insightful decision-making — you will utilize existing memories, retrieve incoming information, and take the time to evaluate options,” he says.
If you do not manage this stress by actually researching it, Dr. Leaf says your body will shift into a state of negative or toxic stress. When that happens, you will definitely make bad decisions — they will become more reactionary and potentially ‘stupid,’ he explains.
In this scenario, your blood vessels constrict instead of dilate, reducing the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain (including other neurophysiological changes that impair cognitive function). This becomes a bit technical, but Dr. Leaf explains that the waves in your brain – delta, beta, theta and gamma – flow at a measured rate during a positive stress state, but in what you call “neurochemical chaos” during a negative stress state. Essentially, Dr. Grazer explains, the function in your prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain responsible for affecting attention, impulsivity, memory and more – is weak.
All this chaos sends you into survival mode, where you can no longer access previous experiences or other critical information to make the right decisions. “You have a lot of what you do not need and very little of what you do,” says Dr. Leaf.
According to Dr. Grazer, stress and poor decision making are so intertwined that the difficulty of choosing between choices is actually a symptom of stress. Stress is also often driven by fear, says Dr. Grazer. When anxiety-based anxiety arises, you may worry about the potential negative consequences of your decisions, which is not the best environment for good judgment. “I try to encourage people to avoid making decisions based on fear because [during that time] “You do not choose the necessary things for your life, because you believe that they are in line with your values”, says Dr. does not always synchronize with the choice that is actually better.
How to find out if you are in a “bad position” while trying to make a decision
If you want to avoid these pitfalls in decision making, you must first check yourself to gauge your current mindset. Dr. Leaf says you need to ask yourself if you are in a state of positive or negative stress (each described above). When you are at first, he says, you will still feel symptoms such as palpitations and adrenaline, but the difference is that they will only make you more alert. You can feel this before you get up to give a speech in front of a crowd, for example, and it’s not bad. Dr. Leaf says that it is like having “butterflies” in your stomach that fly in formation.
With bad stress, you will not feel that your butterflies are flying in formation. Instead, you will feel overwhelmed, as if your emotions are out of control and there is just chaos in your brain. Your heart rate may also pick up, making you feel like you can’t breathe.
And if you do not understand it immediately and do not correct it before you have to make a decision, you will make a bad choice, says Dr. Leaf. In addition, if these stressful and anxious situations persist, your mind will create predictive patterns around the decisions you make from a bad place, resulting in you making more bad decisions about similar situations in the future. (The brain loves a good shortcut, after all!)
How to relieve stress and anxiety to ensure better decision making
Now that you know the red flags that indicate you may be ready to make a bad decision, you will want to adopt strategies for resetting your brain so that you can make good choices. Below, find a 3-step process to do just that.
1. Pause to analyze what is going on behind the scenes in your brain
Once you find that you are in a state of negative stress, Dr. Leaf and Dr. Grazer recommend a quick time out. “Speed up and check in with yourself, because it’s hard to know what we’re experiencing, if we’re just in a hurry,” says Dr. Grazer. “We go into combat or flight mode and we become more agitated and irritable and we feel an urgent need to do things when there is not necessarily as much urgency as we give.” If you’re not sure if you need a break, look for other signs of stress and anxiety that are part of a familiar pattern for you, such as a decrease or increase in appetite.
You will also want to ask yourself what it is Really causing your brain to short circuit when it’s time to make a decision. Dr. Grazer notes that it is common to have an underlying stress that has nothing to do with the decision you are trying to make, but which nevertheless affects it. Maybe you have a big job at work, and it is this stress that makes it so difficult for you to decide where to eat. Realizing that your stress is not really for dinner can help you make this low bet decision more easily, so you may want to use relaxation techniques to relieve stress.
2. Engage in activities with awareness
To this end, both practitioners then recommend doing a simple breathing exercise to help rejuvenate yourself. Dr. Leaf likes to inhale for three measurements, to the point where “you feel like your stomach may burst,” then immediately pushes this breath for seven measurements and then repeats the sequence nine times. This sends blood and oxygen back to the front of the brain, calming the tsunami of waves that confuses your cognition. “You will start to calm the chemical chaos,” he says. Any of these other 15 breathing exercises could work for this purpose as well.
If you have a little more time, follow another sedative practice, such as rhythmically pushing a stress ball or even just tapping your toes or feet in an ordered, rhythmic pattern, Dr. advises. Leaf. And if you have even more time to make a decision, it is advisable to engage in a creative activity such as drawing, dancing, etc., or even just study a work of art. This will also calm down and restore your added brain.
Really, any activity that allows consciousness will do the trick here – the goal is just to get your cognitive function back to normal.
3. Now that you are calm, make a decision
Once you have regained your sense of balance, you should be ready to make decisions again. The first step here is to realize the decision that needs to be made and what it entails. Then, Dr. Leaf advises considering why you should make this decision and analyze its implications. If you have time, he says it might be helpful to write down these thoughts. Then visualize your decision – imagine yourself living in the reality in which you made that decision. And finally, take action. Think about what parts of the decision you can make now, says Dr. Leaf, noting that sometimes your decision will simply be that you have not yet had enough time to make the decision, so you can not commit to making it yet. And if you start to feel stressed or stressed again at any point in this process, take a break and start again with the first step above.
It is obviously impossible to completely eliminate stress and anxiety from our lives — especially in modern times — and yet we have to make hundreds of micro and macro decisions every day independently. This can be dangerous, but Dr. Leaf reminds you that it is not the stress itself that has negative consequences, but your response to it. “Learning healthy coping mechanisms is vital to being able to have a productive, successful life,” he says. “And, a little calm, too.”
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