Anxiety Can Make You Unprepared
April 25, 2012 5 Comments
Remember the time you had that really important job interview? You spent all week simulating every possible scenario in your head. You were so stressed and obsessed that you started stupid fights with your significant other, went three days without seeing the sun, and ate enough MSG to kill a small rodent. But it was all worth it because those hours spent ruminating about your interview left you wholly prepared for any challenging questions.
Or maybe not. A recent study that examined disaster preparedness found that anxiety makes you prepare less.
The thrust of this study is to understand the responses of anxiety-prone people to threats like natural disasters. It examines whether anxiety influences disaster preparedness, and whether disaster education and resources mediate between anxiety and disaster preparedness. Data were collected from 300 people, each from flood-prone and heat-wave-affected areas in Orissa, India. Controlling for the influence of age and family type, the results revealed that trait anxiety decreased flood and heat-wave preparedness.
Two points. First, the study completely busts the archetype of the crazy man stocking his bomb shelter and waiting for the apocalypse. If somebody really believed doomsday was coming, they would have too much anxiety to prepare for it.
Second, although the study deals with a fairly specific case, it seems plausible that our everyday ruminations also detract from our ability to adequately prepare for things in life (and thus prevent future anxieties.) That’s not to say that you should never dwell on something because you might risk increasing your anxiety, but it’s important to remember that our brains are good at thinking on the fly. That’s why humans and not gazelles own all the fancy California beachfront property. When we overanalyze, we quickly reach a point of diminishing returns, and as this study demonstrates, the returns can sometimes fall below nothing. So next time you start obsessing, take a break and think about something else (for example, who is your least-liked Facebook friend?)
Mishra, S., & Suar, D. (2011). Effects of Anxiety, Disaster Education, and Resources on Disaster Preparedness Behavior Journal of Applied Social Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00853.x