Ever found yourself struggling to make a simple decision like what to eat for breakfast, or what time to leave for a train? You might just be indecisive or you might be suffering from decision fatigue.
We face hundreds of choices everyday — from what to eat for lunch to more complicated decisions that involve our emotional, financial, and physical well-being.
And particularly since the beginning of lockdown, we've had to make all sorts of new decisions with lots of new factors and considerations.
Regardless of how strong you are, your ability to make the best choices can eventually run out due to decision fatigue. That’s the official term for that feeling when you’re overly stressed by the endless amount of decisions you’ve had to make throughout the day.
Recognising when we are experiencing decision fatigue is a tricky one because its symptoms are nondescript and similar to many other forms of burnout, but understanding how it works — and how it might impact you —is vital.
So, to help us figure out what's what, we spoke to Joe Welstead – co-founder of Motion Nutrition – to find out how to identify decision fatigue and, crucially, how to combat it.
What exactly is decision fatigue?
'In practical terms, decision fatigue stems from a depletion of certain neurotransmitters essential for decision-making, namely Dopamine. Decision fatigue is that familiar feeling of being done with your day,' Joe explains.
In fact, the phrase was coined by social psychologist Roy Baumeister, decision fatigue is the emotional and mental strain resulting from a burden of choices.
When humans are overstressed, we become hasty or shut down altogether, and that stress plays a huge role in our behaviours, including our decision making.
What are some of the symptoms?
There are four main symptoms of decision fatigue: procrastination, impulsivity, avoidance and indecision.
So you're either putting a decision off until later, making a rash decision based on little evidence or information, avoiding the decision altogether or battling back and forth between various choices.
'If you find yourself staring at something for ages and being incapable of choosing – and it might be as simple as "how many bananas do I need to buy?" — this is decision fatigue,' Joe explains.
'Similarly, when confronted with decision fatigue, we tend to get irritable with those around us: the simplest of questions from a family member or colleague can cause us to lash out,' he adds.
'Another familiar pattern is planning a holiday. Browse through enough flight options, car rentals, hotels, potential dates, and suddenly the idea of planning a romantic getaway turns into a domestic nightmare.'
How to combat decision fatigue
The best way to avoid energy-sapping decision fatigue is by consciously directing your thoughts and actions. Here are five ways you can do this:
Focus on self-care
As with any stress response, when the human system becomes overly taxed, self-care is extremely important.
Make sure you are not neglecting your self-care routines, and take time to rest by setting aside 10-minute breaks between tasks throughout the day.
Getting enough sleep is a major part of self-care, which may mean you need to come off your phone earlier, stop watching TV at night or put things in place that you know help you drift off: a lavender bath for example or listening to Beta waves.
Prioritise your decisions
Cut down on needless decision-making by jotting down your top priorities for the day and ensuring you tackle those first. This way, your most important decisions get done when your energy is at its highest.
Maintain unchanging routines
Set up your day so that you have to make the fewest decisions possible. This means having strict and clear rules about certain things, such as when you go to sleep, when you'll workout and what time you'll go food shopping.
Make healthier food choices
The right nutrition can help conserve your energy. Research shows that eating a quick, glucose-rich snack improves our self-control and keeps your blood sugar from dipping low.
Check out our list of the best healthy snack recipes to satisfy your cravings.
Let others help out
As with many other mental health illnesses, seeking outside help is a huge step towards feeling better. And particularly when it comes to decision-making, sharing the mental load can help prevent feelings of overwhelm.
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