Has the Pandemic Affected Your Decision-Making Abilities?

decision paralysis

When you’re in a bad headspace, even small, low-stakes decisions can seem overwhelming. What’s for breakfast? Do you need to do the laundry today or can it wait for a less-busy day? Then there are the bigger decisions: should you travel for the holidays? Should you have children or wait until the world stops resembling a non-stop dumpster fire? Is it time for a career change?

Frankly, we’re exhausted just writing about it.

The American Psychological Association just released results of a new poll regarding decision-making during the pandemic, which found that “one in three Americans (32%) said sometimes they are so stressed about the coronavirus pandemic that they struggle to make even basic decisions (e.g., what to wear, what to eat, etc.). Millennials (48%) were particularly likely to struggle with this when compared with their counterparts…”

It’s no secret that the pandemic has created a lot of new problems for us—on top of the problems we’re already living with daily. So, what does that mean for our decision-making abilities?

What anxiety and COVID-19 have in common

Anxiety is part of our brain and body’s way of protecting us from threats, whether real or perceived. Even if you don’t suffer from atypical amounts of anxiety, the pandemic has added more stressors to our daily lives over the past couple of years. Before the vaccine became readily available, even small decisions could be a matter of life or death: what if you catch COVID during your daily errands and bring it home to your less-healthy loved ones?

All of that hypervigilance takes its toll. As the APA’s chief executive officer Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD states, “The pandemic has imposed a regimen of constant risk assessment upon many. Each day brings an onslaught of choices with an ever-changing context as routines are upended and once trivial daily tasks are recast in the light of pandemic life. Sustaining a heightened degree of vigilance inevitably wears on one’s mental health. And operating amid so much uncertainty compounds the general state of mental exhaustion being felt by so many right now…”

If Evans’ words sound familiar, it’s because the end result affects us a lot like anxiety. Being on constant alert is emotionally, mentally and even physically exhausting. This inevitably leads to “decision paralysis” or “decision fatigue.”

When you’re faced with constant demands on your decision-making skills—and heightened stakes, whether perceived or real—it makes it a lot harder for you to weigh risk vs. reward. Instead of choosing things in your best interest, you may be tempted to forego the cost-benefit analysis or avoid making any choices.

Decision paralysis happens to everyone at some point in their lives, but living under the shadow of the pandemic has made it a widespread issue.

What to do when ‘decision paralysis’ makes life tough(er)

If this is an issue you struggle with, not to worry. Here are some simple ways you can work through decision fatigue:

  • Make plans on good days: If you’re having a good day or a moment of peace, schedule 15 minutes to start making smaller plans to help guide the week. This could be anything from meal planning to deciding which assignments need to be completed on which days.
  • Adjust your perspective: It’s hard to make decisions when it feels like the fate of the world is resting on your shoulders. Go for a short walk (or a longer one, if you have time) and try to determine whether the situation is as dire as it seems.
  • Journal it out: For larger decisions, like whether to move, switch jobs or break up with someone, write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal. You’ll feel better once you get your thoughts out, and you can refer back to it as a deadline approaches.
  • Give yourself more time: It’s truly okay if you don’t know the answers to your problems yet. Don’t make life-changing decisions on impulse—give yourself some time to sit with the pros and cons until an answer arrives.
  • Ask for help: If you have housemates or a partner, ask them to lighten your load. Split up decision-making chores like meal planning or errand-running.
  • Seek therapy: Finally, don’t be afraid to seek mental health help. Everyone is struggling right now, not just you. A good therapist will help you work through major decisions, and make lifestyle adjustments to reduce the rest of your worries.

Working through decision paralysis can be a two-step-forward-one-step-back process. Luckily, however, the skills you develop now will help you survive and thrive during future stressful times.

Evan DeMarco

Evan DeMarco is a leading sports medicine and nutrition expert, published author, public speaker and frequent guest on television, radio, and digital platforms.

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