Decision Fatigue

You may or may not have heard of this term before, but I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ve had this particular experience. Decision Fatigue is is the emotional and mental strain resulting from a burden of choices.

The term, coined by Roy F. Baumeister, social psychologist and author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, occurs after a long session of decision-making which results in low self-control and will power. Just like your muscles tiring out after a long cardio workout, your brain is also a muscle that becomes exhausted. And when your brain is tired, it conserves energy by making impulse decisions—or by making no decisions at all. Hmmm, there may be a reason I like to stay in my pajamas all day. I don’t have to decide what to wear.

We know as parents that giving our children two positive choices is a great way to help them learn to make good decisions, provide them with a little bit of “control,” as well as teach them about language and other positive skills.

With parents of special needs children and adults, however, we often don’t have one positive choice, much less two. Often our choices are the lesser of two evils. For example, should we have surgery during the school year or in the summer? Do we continue trying difficult physical therapy to try to help our paraplegic children learn how to walk or go ahead and begin the process (and resignation) that they should start using a wheelchair? Decisions about child care, respite care, physical therapy, IEP, 504, guardianship, trusts, insurance, occupational therapy, primary care physicians, ABA therapy, meals, outings, medicaid, and the list goes on…

It’s no wonder that decision fatigue sets in and creates an even more difficult problem. The theory surrounding decision fatigue is that a human’s ability to make decisions can get worse after making many decisions, as their brain will be tired. Decision fatigue can manifest in a number of ways, such as:

  • Impulsivity
  • Procrastination
  • Avoiding simpler choices
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Diminished executive functioning
  • Physical symptoms such as tension headaches and digestive issues

You may be thinking, gosh, this is just how our lives are. It’s not that important that we know the difference specifically between exhaustion, mental or decision fatigue or any other cause of the signs and symptoms above. What is important is that we ask for and get help.

If you are feeling depleted by decisions, here are some strategies that might help get you back on track.

  • Pull back from the Chaos – this may not seem possible, but even creating some time to practice self care, do something you enjoy or even extra sleep might keep you away from the fray long enough to reset.
  • Establish daily routines that minimize decision making – make lunches and choose clothing the night before, have items already in the car for an outing, keep supplies stocked so that you aren’t scrambling to find wound dressing, the iPad, fidget spinners or whatever your child needs to feel calm and protected.
  • Batch your work – time block your schedule and build in time for creative projects as opposed to just management and executive decisions.
  • Set deadlines for decisions – do your research, trust your instincts, consult professionals, family and friends, and then make a plan to decide by a certain date or time frame.
  • Eat healthy snacks. According to Baumeister “acts of self-control cause reductions in blood glucose levels, which in turn predict poor self-control on behavioral tasks.” When you are hungry and your glucose levels are low, eating a healthy snack can give you the jolt you need to be more productive and to avoid making a wrong decision.
  • Sleep – we mentioned this above, but it deserves it’s own line item. So many of us struggle with sleep, falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up, and all of the other sleep issues that plague the chronically exhausted. I cannot emphasize enough how sleep can alleviate so many issues and symptoms that we face in our own health and well being.

On the bright side, many of the strategies for giving our brain a break are also great tips for all of the symptoms listed above. I know that many of you will be able to try some of these ideas right away. If you are struggling to create a plan of action, please reach out for assistance. We have a great planning tool, The Effective Checklist, available on our membership site as well as a video tutorial of how to time block and create some space in your life for yourself.

We are also planning an amazing webinar this fall centered around the issue of sleep. We will give you tips and strategies to help you sleep better and feel better. You won’t want to miss it. Make sure you sign up for the newsletter so that you are one of the first to hear once we confirm dates.

In the meantime, wishing you peace and hugs. Xoxo -Angela

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