Resilience: Defining decision fatigue

Why you might be sick of making decisions, and three ways to face that feeling as we head for fall

Resilience: Defining decision fatigue

Picture this: You’re staring into the fridge, trying to decide what leftovers you can cobble together for dinner. You’re distracted, thinking about how to reply to your boss’ email about returning to in-person work.

“Can I go out with my friends!?” your teen shouts from the other room. You slam the fridge door. You can’t even decide what to make for dinner, much less if you want to go back to the office or if it’s safe for your child to see friends.

Sound familiar? You might be experiencing decision fatigue — the mental and emotional exhaustion from making countless decisions. This fatigue can play out in many ways, from making hasty decisions to avoiding choices altogether. You might just feel tired, anxious or depleted.

And you’re not alone. Decision fatigue seems to be especially prevalent now, explains Tracy, a solutions navigator with the County’s Family and Community Services. “We’ve had to make so many decisions through the pandemic, and we’ve made them with a lot of uncertainty about what’s going on in the world. The cumulative effect of all of these tough decisions is sticking with us,” she says.

In her role with the County, Tracy supports individuals and families through life’s challenges. Now, she shares three ways to take care of yourself and cut down decision fatigue as we head for fall.

Aim for automation

While major decisions often cause the most stress, making many small decisions can also be exhausting.

Tracy suggests cutting down the number of decisions you make in a day by automating simple tasks. That could be meal planning for the week or laying out the next day’s clothes the night before — and enlisting the whole household in this work.

“If decisions are falling to one person all the time, that person can sit down with their partner and talk about the division of tasks. It can be as simple as saying, ‘I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, how can we tackle this together?’” says Tracy.

Don’t expect perfection

Often, decision fatigue is amplified by the internal pressure we feel to make the “right” or “best” decision. To avoid this stress, Tracy recommends removing the judgement from decision-making.

“We never know how our choices are going to pan out in the future. So I try to stay away from calling it a ‘bad decision’ or a ‘good decision.’ When we judge our decisions, we put that judgement on ourselves.”

Instead, she recommends accepting we can’t be perfect. “We just need to make the best decision we can at the time with the information we have. Removing the expectation of perfection can be very freeing. And can remove some of that fatigue.”

It also means giving yourself permission to make an easier choice. “If you come home with takeout, it doesn’t mean anything about you as a person. You’re not a bad mom if you don’t cook every night.”

Honour your experience

Tracy notes we shouldn’t overlook how many difficult decisions we made during the pandemic, when simply leaving the house had major implications for our health, and the health of our family and community.

“No wonder we’re exhausted. No wonder we have decision fatigue. As a society, we haven’t processed all of that,” says Tracy. "So it's okay to say no. it's okay to change your mind. It's okay to make one decision today but make a different decision tomorrow.”

Ultimately, she suggests giving yourself grace, and seeking help from a friend, family member or counsellor when decisions become overwhelming.

“As we move ahead and out of the pandemic, we need to know that there might be some things that linger with us. And that's okay — that's normal. We need to honour that.”

This story is part of our Be Real. Be Really Kind campaign to encourage empathy as we enter community recovery from COVID-19. If you’re struggling with your mental health, finances or just feel overwhelmed, call our Family and Community Services line at 780-464-4044.

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