Decision Fatigue - The Lesser Known Pandemic
Has the ‘coronacoaster’ addled your brain too? If you’re finding it harder to make decisions since the pandemic hit then you’re not alone.
For those of us who feel like the days merge into one, and whose wardrobe choices are now split into upper body (smart casual) and lower body (anything stretchy), then you may have found yourself second guessing your choices, struggling with imposter syndrome at work and generally feeling a wash of malaise when faced with any scenario that requires you to make a choice. Decision fatigue is the ‘syndrome’ that has been quietly sneaking into our lives alongside the pandemic.
Is decision fatigue real?
It’s real, my friends. Named by Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, it’s also one of the predicators of burnout or, just as serious - a breakdown.
One of the reasons it’s so dangerous is that we all make hundreds, if not thousands of decisions daily without thinking, thanks to our magnificently complex and ancient but ever evolving survival system. Making decisions doesn’t seem hard - but we’ve never encountered decision making during a global pandemic.
When we’re in a routine these decisions come to pass without a second thought, but now work has become home (and daycare or a classroom) and some of us may have lost our commute, our routine’s have been disrupted.
This isn’t all bad though - some of us may be using this extra time for good - but even that has been a cause for anxiety for some, with social media awash with new hobbyists causing comparison-itis.
What does decision fatigue look like?
To name just a few symptoms, you could experience general fatigue, brain fog, irritability, poor sleep, procrastination, sugar or carb cravings, tearfulness and apathy. You may also start to feel like you can’t cope at work, or that people don’t trust you to do your job, or you start to doubt your parenting skills.
On their own, I’m sure we all face some of these on a regular basis, but we usually re-charge with a weeks well deserved break away, but this year, a lot of our coping mechanisms have been taken away. Without our usual routines and opportunities to blow off steam, decision fatigue creeps in quietly, which is why it’s so insidious.
How to tackle it?
Despite lockdowns and restrictions (although most are now lifted), it is possible to mitigate decision fatigue.
Disconnect - Decision fatigue is driven by stress and overwhelm, so it’s really important to have some down time to rest and recharge. Turn off your phone, even for an hour. Meditate, take walks in nature, spend time in or near water and focus on being present in the moment.
Prepare - reduce the stress of last minute decision making by planning ahead. If appropriate and possible, enlist family, friends or colleagues to help you be accountable or use them as a sounding board.
Simplify - the less choices you have to make, the better. That’s why Steve Jobs famously had a ‘uniform’. Dish out chores at home and make a schedule, consider meal planing so you don’t need to think about what to cook and what food to buy each day. At work, focus on what really matters, what work will make a difference and generate success? Focussing on anything else will dilute your resources.
The ‘only option’ test - When you’re faced with a decision that has many possible outcomes ,employ the ‘only option’ test with your top choices…would you be happy if one of these was the only option available to you.
Try minimalism - easier said the done, but even decluttering your immediate environment can be a good place to start - clutter has a mental and physical impact.
Living with decision fatigue…
All of this might sound a little bleak but it’s not going away, with or without the pandemic. If you start to feel the simultaneous rush of overwhelm and the weight of analysis paralysis, the most important thing to do is rest your mind and body. Secondly, talk to someone.
Having experienced decision fatigue, I know how it can easily twist your perception in a subtle but sneaky way and it’s vitally important to take a load off and get some support as soon as you can.