May 29, 2024

Decision-making fatigue is affecting everything from our shopping baskets to our mental health

If you’re the friend who organises everything: from meticulously planning day trips, to booking the best hen party destinations (or even just deciding what bar you’ll meet at on Friday), it’s likely that you’re all too familiar with decision-making fatigue.

This refers to psychological state in which a person’s ability or capacity to make decisions is strained – usually as a result of being in position of responsibility, which requires them to make decisions regularly. It’s also known as ego-depletion.

This applies to all decisions – whether they’re life-changing or trivial. Dr. Tiago Reis Marques, who lectures at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, points out that decision-making fatigue can manifest in everyday situations, such as going shopping, saying that, “In supermarkets where there are snacks and confectionary near the checkout, people can often resist these urges.

“However, if you’re experience decision-making fatigue/ego-depletion, your self-control is lower and your energy has been drained making decisions around the shop beforehand. As a result, you’re more likely to impulse buy and pick up the items nearer to the checkout. ”

What is decision-making fatigue/ego-depletion?

According to Olivia James, a Harley Street therapist specialising in treating anxiety and trauma, decision-making fatigue occurs when, “your system is flooded with stress hormones,” meaning you’re “less likely to have access to your full logical, rational problem-solving brain. ”

So, if we’re feeling stressed by the expectation that we need to make all the decisions, our brain is actually less likely to function properly, meaning the decisions we do make are less likely to be properly thought through. If you’ve ever done a meticulously healthy food shop and then ordered a pizza the minute you got home, the chances are that you were experiencing decision-making fatigue. Or you were just really craving a Hawaiian, which is totally understandable.

What are the symptoms of decision-making fatigue?

According to Dr. Tiago Reis Marques, there are four main symptoms of decision-making fatigue:

  1. Procrastination
  2. Impulsivity
  3. Avoidance
  4. Indecisiveness

He adds that over time, these symptoms can “trigger irritability, anxiety and depression due to the emotional and physical toll of exerting willpower and making decisions. ”

What’s the treatment for decision-making fatigue?

Here are Dr. Tiago’s top tips for managing and overcoming decision-making fatigue:

  1. Be mindful and prioritise your decisions – Cut down on needless decision making and postpone important decisions that require sharper thinking to the time of day when your energy is at its highest. By recognising decision fatigue and making small changes, you can help make everyday choices easier.
  2. Set a routine – if you follow clear rules about things, from bedtimes to social activities, you successfully set up your day so that you can make the fewest decisions possible. In turn, this helps preserve your energy and conserve willpower.
  3. Practise self-care – As with any stress response, self-care is crucial. You should ensure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, and watching your alcohol intake.
  4. Share the load – if you’re feeling overwhelmed, sharing the mental load of decision-making can definitely help. For example, if you’re having a hard time planning a family holiday, ask a sibling to take on some of the planning.
  5. Celebrate your good decisions – we make a plethora of decisions during the day that sometimes it’s difficult to keep track. However, it’s important to celebrate the good decisions you make. This will help boost self-esteem and also allow you to recognise the positive impact good decision making.
  6. Keep tabs on how you’re feeling. Whilst decision-making fatigue/ego-depletion are manageable at first, if you’re noticing consistent emotional and physical signs of fatigue, depression and anxiety – keep track of any patterns in your moods and reach out for help, if necessary.

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