Worrying Is ‘Like Doing Two Things at Once’

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Here, I have just what you need: a new thing to worry about. Recently, in The Wall Street Journal, University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock provides a brief overview of her career, which has focused largely on the study of anxiety, with a special emphasis on what makes people (even experts) choke under pressure. During the interview, Beilock makes a simple but insightful observation about nervousness, and why it can be so distracting. “When we’re worried, it captures our attention,” she told the WSJ. “It’s like doing two things at once.”

It’s hard to write, or speak in public, or … do anything, really, if you’re worrying at the same time. Overthinking helps no one and often leads to choking under pressure; or, as Beilock rhymes, “It’s paralysis by analysis.” However: Writing seems to help. From the WSJ:

As a general piece of advice, she encourages people to write down their worries before an event. In a paper published in the journal Science in 2011, she studied groups of students about to take a test. Those who spent 10 minutes before the test writing down their worries scored higher than those who didn’t, and especially students who reported being anxious about tests got higher scores.

Beilock just won a $75,000 prize funded by the National Academy of Sciences, which she says she plans to use toward further study into how students experience anxiety in the classroom. (She has a special interest in “math anxiety,” and why it’s common for people to claim they’re just not a “math person,” whereas you rarely hear the same for other subjects, like reading.) Honestly, any guidance she can provide on how to find your way out of a worry spiral will be very welcome.

Worrying Is ‘Like Doing Two Things at Once’