When making a difficult decision, conventional wisdom often says to “go with your gut” or “trust your instincts.” However, if you suffer from anxiety, that can be easier said than done.
People with anxiety often second-guess themselves and convince themselves that bad things are happening or about to happen because “they can just feel it” — not because of any rational, thought-out reasoning. A study published in Clinical Psychological Science shows that anxious people have impaired intuitive performance, leading them to make a poor decision or no decision at all.
The study involved more than 100 participants who were divided into three groups and exposed to images and statements meant to induce one of three moods: anxious, neutral and optimistic. Participants then filled out a questionnaire to assess how effectively they make intuitive decisions. The researchers found that the people in the anxious mood group showed “impaired intuitive performance.”
Anxiety makes people pessimistic, risk-averse and less confident, all of which can lead to making what they assume is the “safest” choice — which may not necessarily be the best decision. Anxious people also tend to misinterpret bodily and/or emotional cues, such as believing a racing heart indicates that they’re suffering a heart attack.
Tuning into your intuition and combating anxious thoughts requires you to be present in the moment, something those with anxiety may find difficult.
“I don’t recommend that people weigh the pros and cons when they are already critical thinkers (they do that naturally), but instead that they pay attention to what their body is feeling and where,” Dr. Holly Richmond, a somatic psychologist and licensed therapist, told PopSugar. “That could sound like, ‘I feel excited. My heart is pounding in my chest.”
Richmond suggested aiming for a combination of excitement and focus when weighing a big decision.
“Finding the balance between the excitement of taking a risk with the presence of mind and body to truly assess all possibilities is a great goal to shoot for,” she said.
It may be difficult to strike a balance between thinking things through — but not overthinking — and tuning into your body without overreacting. But simply being aware that anxiety can impair your decision-making process can help, as you’ll know to wait until you feel calmer before making an important choice.
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