Updated: Jun 4
As Wharton research scholar Jeremy Yip has found, fear about one thing in your life has a way of spilling over into other parts of your life. Anxiety offers a familiar response to uncertainty, and as a result, you try to reduce your risks.
But some anxiety triggers are totally unrelated to your responses or decisions. Yip calls this ‘incidental anxiety’ where there’s a spillover effect when one event causes you to be anxious, which then, in turn, causes you to be wary about taking any risks over lots of totally unrelated situations.
For example, imagine a very frustrating journey into work where the traffic is awful, or the trains were canceled. Maybe you had a row with your partner before you left for work. Or, an encounter with someone you were trying to avoid.
So, you might get into work, and suddenly everything feels stressful, and you make decisions based on the anxiety you brought into the office. You don’t like to take any risks because your anxiety is so high, so your decisions are made to keep you feeling safe.
It’s very difficult to go to work, or a party or another social commitment and switch the anxiety dial right down if you’ve had an anxious situation before you got there. Even though you're trying your best if your anxiety trigger is negatively influencing situations or relationships with others (that’s nothing to do with what’s made you anxious,) it may be doubling your anxiety.
How do we stop incidental anxiety affecting other parts of our life? You can reduce incidental anxiety affecting other parts of your life through emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence Emotional intelligence is being able to recognize your emotions, understand what they're telling you, and realize how your emotions are affecting the people around you. It also involves your perception of others because when you understand how they feel, it allows you to manage relationships more effectively.
People with good emotional intelligence are often successful in most things they do because they're the ones that others want on their team. When people with good emotional intelligence send an email, it gets answered. When they need help, they get it. Because they make others feel good, they go through life much more easily than people who are easily angered or upset.
In his 1995 book titled "Emotional Intelligence - Why It Can Matter More Than IQ" the American psychologist Daniel Goleman developed a framework of elements that define emotional intelligence:
1. Self-Awareness – People with high emotional intelligence are usually very self-aware. They understand their emotions, and because of this, they don't let their feelings rule them. They're confident – because they trust their intuition and don't let their emotions get out of control.
2. Honesty - they're willing to take an honest look at themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and they work in these areas so they can perform better. Many people believe that this self-awareness is the most important part of emotional intelligence.
3. Self-Regulation – the ability to control emotions and impulses. People who self-regulate typically don't allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they don't make impulsive careless decisions. They think before they act. Characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, comfort with change,integrity, and the ability to say ‘no.’
4. Motivation – People with a high degree of emotional intelligence are usually motivated. They're willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. They're highly productive, love a challenge, and are very effective in whatever they do.
5. Empathy – This is perhaps the second-most important element of emotional intelligence. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. As a result, empathetic people are usually excellent at managing relationships, listening, and relating to others. They avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in a very open, honest way.
6. Social Skills – It's usually easy to talk to and like people with good social skills, another sign of high emotional intelligence. Those with strong social skills are typically team players. Rather than focus on their success first, they help others develop and shine. They can manage disputes, are excellent communicators, and are masters at building and maintaining relationships.
How Does This Relate If You Have High Levels Of Anxiety?
When you make a decision, you might ask yourself: how do I feel about this? If you’re anxious because of another event in your life and you’re trying to make decisions about who to hire or which car to buy, you end up using your emotional state as information.
There are several ways you can go, but the two that dominate are the safe option and the riskier option. Incidental anxiety tends to make you choose the safer option regardless if it’s the best option or not. So when you're anxious, you may choose the car or new member of staff that ticks the safe option boxes for you.
However, studies have shown that the people who can block the effects of this incidental anxiety when they make decisions have higher levels of emotional intelligence because they can block the influence of incidental anxiety on their risk-taking.
Whereas those with lower emotional intelligence are more confused about the source of their anxiety, and they misattribute their decisions, making them reduce their ability to take a risk.
How To Get Better At Making Decisions When You're Anxious Using your emotional intelligence, you can get better at making decisions when you’re anxious by asking yourself these three questions:
How do you feel?
What is causing you to feel this way?
Is it relevant or irrelevant to the decision you’re trying to make?
Trying to recognize where your fear is coming from will help you to make good decisions even if you are anxious. If you’re worried because you had a row with your partner this morning, recognize that those worries have nothing to do with your pitch at work this afternoon.
REFERENCES: https://www.fastcompany.com/3025239/how-misplaced-anxiety-affects-your-decision-making https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797612450031