Your Anxiety Might Actually Serve a Purpose
Stop worrying about your worrying. A new study from the University of Waterloo has found a surprising benefit of anxiety: better memory.
That is, anxiety affects memory positively — as long as the anxiety stays at manageable levels.
“People with high anxiety have to be careful,” said the study‘s co-author Myra Fernandes, a psychologist at the University of Waterloo. “To some degree, there is an optimal level of anxiety that is going to benefit your memory, but we know from other research that high levels of anxiety can cause people to reach a tipping point, which impacts their memories and performance.”
Fernandes and Christopher Lee, a psychology PhD candidate, found that manageable levels of anxiety actually aided people in being able to recall the details of events. But when anxiety levels got too high or descended into fear, people began to associate otherwise neutral elements of an experience to the negative context.
They also found that individuals high in anxiety, as measured by the widely used Depression Anxiety Stress Scales, showed a heightened sensitivity to the influences of emotional context on their memory, with neutral information becoming tainted, or coloured by the emotion with which it was associated as they experienced it.
“By thinking about emotional events or by thinking about negative events this might put you in a negative mindset that can bias you or change the way you perceive your current environment,” Lee said. “So, I think for the general public it is important to be aware of what biases you might bring to the table or what particular mindset you might be viewing the world in and how that might ultimately shape what we walk away seeing.”