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Mother with children suffering from decision fatigue and considering therapy for stress management

Drained by Decisions: Exploring the Concept of Decision Fatigue

By: Kristina Murr

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Have you ever felt like you’re ready to snap, or you’ve hit your limit after having to make a great deal of decisions? This can include big or small decisions, especially back-to-back. If you said yes, you’re not alone. You could be facing decision fatigue.

For some people, this can lead to feeling physically or psychologically drained. It can also lead to being more careless about the choices being made. In some cases, the person making decisions can shut down altogether and either be unable to or refuse to make another decision at the moment. Let’s discuss what decision fatigue is and how to work through it.

What is decision fatigue?

When someone has to make what feels like too many choices in a short period of time, they can experience decision fatigue. While it’s not a diagnosable mental health condition, it is something very real that occurs for many people.

This type of mental fatigue impacts cognitive executive functioning which impairs one’s ability to be intentional or thoughtful when going through difficult decisions. It’s important to understand that anyone who is constantly having to make decisions may experience this at one point or another.

Symptoms of decision fatigue

In many instances, decision fatigue is a short-term experience, but symptoms can impact how someone functions for an extended period of time. This can lead to a person feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or procrastinating tasks and decisions.

Additional psychological symptoms include feeling emotionally drained, having brain fog, or being irritable.

Physical symptoms can include headaches, nausea, stomach pains or eye twitching.

Coping with decision fatigue

Luckily, there are things you can do to cope with decision fatigue as it’s occurring. Going through decision fatigue is definitely challenging, but the following coping strategies can help reduce its impact.

Reduce the number of decisions

Everyone can benefit from decreasing the number of decisions they’re making on any given day. Try to reduce the number of smaller decisions you’ll need to make during a typical day. This could include creating a meal prep sheet each week so you’re not planning breakfast, lunch, and dinners on the fly.

It could also include choosing your clothes for the upcoming day the evening before or setting up outfits to choose from instead of having to choose what you’re wearing piece by piece.

If you’re facing a surge of decisions in your life—like diving into a significant work project or realizing you’re expecting a child—consider paying for convenience such as with a meal delivery service or online grocery shopping. These options simplify your week by offering pre-selected meals or enabling you to reorder groceries based on previous purchases, easing the mental strain of decision-making.

Make a list

Decision fatigue can be lowered by making a list of attainable goals and actionable items. Instead of having to figure out an order to complete tasks as you think of them or know you need to do, it can be helpful to have things in order to check off one at a time.

This makes it easy to know exactly what you need to focus on at a given time. It can feel powerful and satisfying to cross items off of the list.

Delegate decisions

Some days it feels like every time we turn around, another decision needs to be made. On other days, it feels like everything runs smoothly. If you’re overwhelmed, ask someone you know and trust to help you with the decisions that you need to make. This could include something as simple as asking your spouse or partner to decide what’s for dinner and if possible, ask them to help prepare the meal.

Although decision fatigue can be draining and challenging, there are ways to work through it and lower the chances of going through it again. The key is to make small but impactful changes to help cope when life feels more stressful than usual.

If you are struggling with decision fatigue, stress therapy or therapy for stress management can help. Reach out today to learn more.

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