There are ways you can improve your decision-making skills, even when your anxiety says otherwise.
Decisions, big and small, happen every day. You might have to make them at work, at school, or at home. Some can be easy, while others may have a longer term impact on your life.
Feeling anxious and stressed about decisions — especially impactful ones — can be natural.
When anxiety takes over, however, you may find you’re less likely to make the best decision.
Making a decision is rarely as simple as understanding pros and cons. For most people, there are a mixture of factors that might influence our decisions.
Fear of loss
If you feel overwhelmed and frozen when faced with a decision, it can be because you’re afraid of what you will lose.
This process, dubbed “prospect theory” by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in a 1979 research paper, reveals you’re more likely to make a decision because you’re afraid to lose something, rather than because you have a chance to gain something.
Status quo bias
Status quo bias is a type of bias that suggests people prefer to stick to what they know.
You may stick with what you know because it’s comforting, even if it’s not in your best interests. In some cases, it may feel easier to not make any decision at all.
Anchoring bias is another type of bias in decision-making that can cause you to stick close to a starting point.
An example of this can be found when purchasing cars. The dealer has set a starting price, and even though you may think the car is worth less, you may stay close to the number you saw at the start without even being aware you’re doing it.
It may seem nice to have plenty of choices when making a decision, but there’s such a thing as too many options.
A 2015 review shows that with choice overload, the stress of too many choices can make you more likely to avoid picking anything at all.
Making too many decisions in a short time can also influence your choices. Instead of thinking something through, you may just want to “get it over with.”
For example, after a long day of work, you might not want to spend hours in the kitchen making a healthy meal. It might be easier to pick up something quick and easy, even though it might be unhealthy.
Because you’re experiencing decision fatigue, a healthier choice becomes less important.
Stereotypes can be a powerful force in decision-making. You may lean towards a decision based on common assumptions rather than facts or statistics.
If the police vehicles in your area are blue and white, when you see a blue and white car — whether or not you know that it is a police vehicle — you might slow down your speed. But if you see a black car, you might continue driving at a higher speed, not being aware that this might also be a police vehicle.
Another factor that may influence how you make a decision is what happened the last time you were faced with a similar situation.
Even if the facts heavily point in one direction, you may make the opposite choice because of a past experience.
If you saw a shark while swimming in the ocean as a child, you might be hesitant to swim in the ocean as an adult.
Riskiness of a situation
How you feel toward a situation can also affect how risky it seems.
If you enjoy cliff jumping, the risk of injury may not seem significant. If you’re afraid of heights, that risk may be extremely important in your decision to make the jump.
When you’re living with an anxiety disorder, making decisions can feel overwhelming. This may be due to how areas in the brain interact with one another.
When you have feelings of anxiety, the connection between your brain and the pre-frontal cortex — the part of the brain responsible for decision-making — may be weakened.
So, when you’re facing a similar situation, all you’ll remember is the feelings of anxiety, fear, and stress.
When you’re experiencing feelings of anxiety, hormones like adrenaline and cortisol increase, prompting your brain to prepare for fight, flight, or freeze response. This can lead to symptoms of anxiety such as rapid heart rate, increased breathing, and muscle tension.
When you’re living with an anxiety disorder, there are ways you can improve your decision-making skills.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, consider waiting before making a decision. While you wait, try these tips:
- make a list of the pros and cons
- ask yourself if the decision takes you toward or away from your goals
- talk with friends and loved ones who you trust to gain another opinion or perspective
- sleep on it (if you can) to ensure you’re well-rested
- create a checklist that the decision must meet based on your needs and goals
- reframe your decision from loss-oriented to gain-oriented
- express your emotions in a journal during your process
- set a reasonable deadline for yourself to make the decision
- create a positive plan for the alternatives
The responsibility of being a decision-maker can bring with it significant stress.
Remember that if you’re feeling isolated or alone in your decision-making, others experience these same frustrations.
There are online support groups that can help you connect with others who have similar experiences.
There are a number of factors that influence our day-to-day decisions, from what we’ll eat for breakfast to what classes or job we’ll take.
When you live with anxiety, making these decisions can feel overwhelming.
Before these feelings of frustration stop you from making important life changes, consider speaking with a trusted friend. You might also talk with a family doctor or mental health professional.
They can help you learn how to manage your anxiety, which can help take the stress out of decision-making. You can also check out these pages: