Everyday emergencies – like locking yourself out of the car, losing an important document or your phone battery dying – have the potential to send us into a spin.
“Everyday emergencies can be very stressful for some people and non-events for others,” says Jonathan Freeman, professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London.
But why is it that little, unforeseen mishaps have the power to cause some of us such a large amount of stress?
According to psychologists at Goldsmiths, how you respond to an everyday emergency depends on whether you are prone to a type of thought they call ‘fearcasting’.
“The term ‘fearcasting’ was developed to explain how you run through all of the worst case scenarios in your head when an everyday emergency strikes – you are forecasting your fears,” explains Freeman to HuffPost UK Lifestyle.
Freeman and his colleagues coined the term after conducting a social experiment looking at how a group of respondents reacted to everyday emergencies; emotionally and physically.
They discovered that ‘fearcasting’ was a key factor contributing to the stress caused by everyday emergencies.
“If you picture an individual imagining the worst case scenario of what could transpire as a result of an everyday emergency it is easy to see why this is the case,” adds Freeman.
“A bad night’s sleep? Fearcast a bad day ahead.
“Missed your train? Fearcast being late for an important meeting, your colleague standing in for you and then getting all the credit for impressing the client.
“Stuck in traffic? Fearcast the person you’re picking up getting lost and into all sorts of trouble because you didn’t make it there to meet them in time.”
So how can you stop yourself fearcasting?
“First, recognise when you’re fearcasting,” says Freeman. “Be mindful of how and why you’re reacting to a situation in the ways you are. Being mindful of how you’re thinking can help you also see different perspectives.
“Next, think of a more positive outcome – be an optimist. Imagine how might the impact of an everyday emergency be just fine, a non-event, no problem.
“Think and act strategically. How can you deploy the resources you’ve got at your disposal to minimise the impact of any everyday emergency on your day?”
As well as fearcasting, the study also revealed four other areas that affect how we react to potentially stressful situations:
1. Resource – The more resources you have to solve the problem, the less stressful the everyday emergency (eg. money, time, people with expertise). So it helps to follow the Scouts example and ‘always be prepared’.
2. Realisation – The sudden realisation of being out of control of the everyday emergency contributes towards the overall stress.
3. Extent – The extent of the disruption directly impacts levels of stress (e.g. laddering tights vs. breaking a heel).
4. Context – Your level of stress before the everyday emergency occurred dramatically affects how you’ll react. If you were already experiencing other life dramas, then what may be considered a ‘tiny’ everyday emergency could become the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The study was conducted in partnership with Direct Line, who also commissioned a survey to discover the most common everyday emergencies that are stressing out people in the UK.
How many have you experienced today?
1. Not being able to sleep.
2. Losing your keys.
3. Being stuck in traffic when already late.
4. Losing an important paper or document.
5. Nowhere to park.
6. Printer not working when you need to print something.
7. Running out of battery on your phone whilst out.
8. Discovering you are out of toilet roll whilst on the loo.
9. Dealing with machine operated customer service.
10. Forgetting your bank card when paying for an item.
Direct Line will holding an Everyday Fix event, at Makerversity’s headquarters based at Somerset House on 8 and 9 April, at which designers will showcase products and services that could fix everyday emergencies.