We all have at some time in our lives felt anxious. Though, we may not have been consciously aware of what the effects our anxious state has on our work or other aspects of normal life. However, research in the area points that high anxiety shrinks the space available to our attention, it undermines our very capacity to take in new information, let alone generate fresh ideas.
Daniel Goleman in his book social intelligence writes – “The worst period I ever went through at work,” a friend confides, “was when the company was restructuring and people were being ‘disappeared’ daily, followed by lying memos that they were leaving ‘for personal reasons.’ No one could focus while that fear was in the air. No real work got done.” Small wonder. The greater the anxiety we feel, the more impaired is the brain’s cognitive efficiency.
In this zone of mental misery, distracting thoughts hijack our attention and squeeze our cognitive resources. Because high anxiety shrinks the space available to our attention, it undermines our very capacity to take in new information, let alone generate fresh ideas. Near-panic is the enemy of learning and creativity.
The neural highway for dysphoria runs from the amygdala to the right side of the pre-frontal cortex. As this circuitry activates, our thoughts fixate on what has triggered the distress. And as we become preoccupied by, say, worry or resentment, our mental agility sputters. Likewise, when we are sad activity levels in the pre-frontal cortex drop and we generate fewer thoughts. Extremes of anxiety and anger on the one hand, and sadness on the other, push brain activity beyond its zones for effectiveness.