You’ve just finished a long day at work, and somehow end up in the supermarket (although you don’t remember driving or walking there). It’s almost dinnertime and you need food, but are overwhelmed with so many options. Now you’re aimlessly wandering up and down the aisles without the slightest clue what you need or want.
We’re constantly making decisions throughout the day. They’re not all necessarily major decisions, but having to make a series of minor choices can weigh on us.
1. What is decision fatigue and what causes it? Having to make too many decisions in a row.
Simply put, decision fatigue is the mental exhaustion someone experiences after making a lot of decisions. “That means, the more decisions you make, the harder it becomes to make additional decisions,” says Rashmi Parmar, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health. “More often than not, it leads to one of two endpoints: You either give up and stop making decisions completely, or you’ll make impulsive or irrational choices.”
2. Is there a difference between decision fatigue and indecisiveness?
In short, yes. “While decision fatigue is mental energy depletion that sets in after making a series of decisions in a fixed time, indecisiveness can be a character trait that results from chronic inability to make decisions, usually stemming from low self-confidence,” explains Dr. Parmar.
The good news, according to Dr. Parmar, is that it’s possible to recover from both decision fatigue and indecisiveness.
3. Is decision fatigue associated with any particular mental health conditions?
Yes, but remember that decision fatigue can impact anyone, regardless of their mental wellness. Having said that, those who live with conditions like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can find it especially difficult to make decisions.
Why does this happen? According to Dr. Parmar, conditions like depression and anxiety can cause significant mental strain and impair one’s ability to fully focus on something, which can contribute to decision-making fatigue over time.
4. Common signs of decision fatigue
Unsure if you or someone you know is experiencing decision fatigue? Here are nine signs to look for:
- A sense of dissatisfaction with any choice that is ultimately made
- Avoidance of decision-making tasks
- Feeling overwhelmed and possibly even hopeless
- Frequent procrastination
- Inability to think clearly or focus
- Irritability and a short temper caused—at least in part—by frustration with themselves
- Physical symptoms like fatigue, poor sleep, headaches, and upset stomach
- Spending a lot of time making decisions
5. Tips and strategies for managing decision fatigue
If several of those signs sound familiar, you may be dealing with decision fatigue. For a way to handle it effectively (and ideally, move past it), Dr. Parmar offers these coping strategies:
- Avoid impulsive decision-making. Postpone decisions if you must, rather than make a wrong move you’ll regret later.
- Draft a simple pros-cons list. This can help facilitate objective and sound decision-making.
- Follow a set routine or a structure. This helps to save time and bring a sense of consistency.
- Limit yourself to making no more than a few big choices per day.
- Make most of your important decisions early in the day and schedule important meetings in the morning.
- Plan your agenda a day in advance, so you’ll be better prepared the next day.
- Prioritize a list of tasks and create deadlines for yourself.
- Take regular work breaks to replenish your brain, and arrange timely and adequate meals and snacks, along with proper hydration, throughout the day.
- When facing too many options, narrow down your selection to three—don’t question yourself—and then, from the final three, pick one.
There’s a good chance that if you’re managing decision fatigue, you’re already pretty stressed. Reducing the anxiety and frustration caused by your inability to make decisions—starting with identifying the signs of decision fatigue—can go a long way toward improving your mental well-being.
Read the full Real Simple article with sources.