Anxiety and Risk Taking

Medical Reviewer

Sometimes, just putting our fears into some kind of perspective can help reduce our anxiety. Risk taking, for example, isn't something we normally associate with very anxious people, whereas risk aversion is. So what exactly are anxious people so afraid of?

Really we're talking about fear that has no particular basis in reality, or if it does, the odds are so extreme as to be ruled out. Yet anxious people take risks all the time, probably without even realizing it, and this is where it gets interesting. Did you know there is a 1 in 2 million chance of dying after falling out of bed? Yet we all get out of bed in the morning. There is a 1 in 8 thousand chance of being killed in a road accident, yet most of us still go out and about. Accidental injuries increase our risk to 1 in 36, yet the top three highest odds of death during our lifetimes are heart disease (1-in-5), cancer (1-in-7) and stroke (1-in-23).

I suspect most of us have some level of concern over these last three issues but despite the challenging statistics most anxious people aren't preoccupied with such concerns. So we're back to perspectives and the fact that no matter how we might try, every time we change a light bulb, walk up stairs, use a knife or take a shower, we take risks.

Avoiding harm isn't necessarily to do with physical issues when we're anxious. More likely it's about anticipating the worst, lack of certainty, and dealing with other people. Even decision-making can become an issue if there's the possibility of a less than desirable outcome. Another way of thinking about this is that anxiety tends to be related to risk avoidance whereas confidence is positively related to risk taking.

We don't need to know the statistics in order to challenge ourselves over the perceived risk of some action. We can simply ask ourselves a few modestly searching questions like, what is the evidence that my fear will occur? If it does, what is the worst that could possibly happen? What's an alternative way of looking at this? What would I say to a friend if they revealed their risk-avoiding behaviors?

Building self-confidence undermines risk aversion so remember to do things that support confidence. Dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, focus on your strengths rather than your perceived limitations, take care of your body by eating a healthy and balanced diet. Set small challenges that are achievable, for example you might cook for a friend, join a club, or increase your activity levels through exercise. Avoid people and situations that make you feel bad about yourself and set about doing things you enjoy.

Gaining perspective is often to do with tipping the scales to your advantage. As confidence grows and you feel better about yourself, so your aversion to risks in life will start to diminish.


National Center for Health Statistics, CDC; American Cancer Society; National Safety Council