Stress and Random Decision-Making

Stress and decision-making are inextricably linked. Not to mention, it is a two-way relationship in that stress can help you make random decisions, but it can also result in costly mistakes.

As we noted in an earlier post, stress is an inbred evolutionary mechanism since time immemorial. In fact, it even predates the development of cognitive processes such as decision-making.

We as human beings are the only biological creatures that have the ability to analyze situations and decide the best course of action in a deliberate manner. However, what has stayed with us all this time is the primitive response for survival, the fight-or-flight mode as like to call it.

Basically what happens is that when we are stressed, the most primitive parts of our brain (specifically the middle and lower brain) become fully active, while the neocortex (part of the brain responsible for deliberation) is virtually shut down. Hence, logical and deliberate decisions are buried under the survival response. In this impulsive mode, you can either make the best decisions if the situation really is a matter of life and death. However, for everything lesser than the fear of death, this is no way to make decisions.

For example, when experiencing intense fear, you are unlikely to try out new ideas and you are most likely to stay within your comfort zone.

Secondly, stress produces internal conflict. These ‘inner voices’ clout your ability to make random decisions. Not to mention, due to the turmoil inside your head, you become much more sensitive to external distractions.

All this puts you in a mode of negative re-enforcement. ‘What ifs?’ and other such worst-case scenarios come to your mind so much so that you find it hard to concentrate.

The solution, then, is to reduce the amount of stress in your life. You need to convince your mind that the current problem is not as serious as it is posing it to be.

Not to mention, most of the techniques discussed in previous Random Reads to enhance random decision-making (such as getting good sleep and exercise) prove effective in reducing stress. For example, working out for 30-45 minutes gives you an adrenaline rush that stays with you for hours, helping you stay active and maintaining your mood.

Other helpful tips for stress relief include:


Prayer or meditative practices like Yoga have amazing stress-relief effects.


Soothing music (such as ambient or classical music) also lowers stress. In fact, meditation becomes more powerful with certain types of sounds (especially binaural beats)


Hanging out with friends and loved ones is a good way of overcoming stress in your life. Beware, though, for some people can actually give you stress!


The act of reading itself involves your cognition in such a way as to help you divert your mind away from any stressful thoughts. However, when you read inspiring stories and biographies of successful people, you will learn to see the positive in life.

Help Out

Finally and most importantly, help someone out from time to time. Volunteer to shovel snow from your block, or provide assistance at a homeless shelter. The feeling you get from helping others keeps stress at bay.