Decision Making and Anxiety: A Never-ending Cycle

Important decision making and anxiety are always there, alongside each other.
It’s more than just stress itself, too – the inability to cope with it makes all the difference in the world.

You see, stress is an “emergency response” in our body, and we aren’t meant to think too much when under an emergency.
In fact, our body is only meant to either run away or confront our condition head on.
Either that, or it completely freezes, there is no third option.

Yet when faced with another option, something else to do, it tends to bring the worst out of us.
A very recent research managed to discuss this fact rather successfully.

They actually did the experiment on rats.
Dividing the rats into two groups, the researchers then gave fed one of the groups with anxiety-inducing drugs, all the while having the two groups perform certain decision-related tasks.

Big surprise, the anxiety-induced group performed much more poorly and was much more susceptible to making mistakes due to distractions.

The simple fact is that the brain doesn’t like to make decisions when it’s stressed out, and anxiety is nothing but stress.

Decision making and anxiety are always a part of each other

Whenever you are making a decision, it’s important to understand that some level of anxiety will come alongside it, and that’s perfectly fine.

We humans are typically faced with a lot of stress when we make an important decision, simply because of such a decision, and the potential outcome of it, definitely count as an emergency to us.
We consider it to be important, and the brain subconsciously relates it as “critical” and acts accordingly.

When we question ourselves about what cereal to buy, what shirt to wear or what movie to watch, these decisions don’t truly carry any weight behind them.

So decisions that do carry a lot of weight, that are important, make all the difference in the world as far as our amygdala, center of anxiety-based reactions (among other things) is concerned.

The simple truth is that you react this way towards decisions purely because you consider them that important, yet when you do your brain does nothing but put a leg in your way.

Why does it have to work that way?

Back when we were nothing but animals running in the wilds, such an emotional reaction wasn’t simply “favorable”, it was flat-out vital to our survival.

You see, when faced with danger, the brain goes into “overdrive” mode and looks for a way out the problem that you have found yourself in.

It can’t afford to sit down, relax, and consider all of the possibilities before taking action in a calm and orderly manner.
And you wouldn’t have either, not with a hungry predator high on your hills.

People back then couldn’t afford to think about their problems like we do.
This entire process of “deep thinking” wasn’t really a thing, they needed a way out, not a choice between multiple options presented beforehand.

And it shows.
Whenever we experience obsessive stress (that is to say, anxiety), our brain vastly overwrites our pre-frontal cortex in favor of the amygdala.

The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for considering consequences, weighing up pros and cons, and all manner of logical thinking.

The amygdala, on the other hand, causes our anxiety in the first place.
It heightens our emotional reactions and makes us that much more prone to distractions (hence, why the rats reacted poorly to them in the experimentation).

Making good choices

So, what can you do about it?

Like I’ve said before, decision making and anxiety come alongside each other, yet are a poor mix when push comes to shove.
Not only do the parts of the brain responsible for anxiety and decision making completely contradict each other in their effect, it’s also very difficult to not let your anxiety get to you when making an important decision.

Furthermore, if you already suffer from severe anxiety, these choices and pressures are only going to make your condition worse.

But there is a way out, my friends!
It’s quite systematic in nature and it can be applied easily to your daily lives.

The method itself is almost basic, and won’t provide immediate results.
On top of that, results will vary based on the severity of the decision.
While disconnecting your mind from your choices is possible, it’s a very difficult process to make and one that I myself am incapable of elaborating on.

So, here are a few solid tips to consider whenever you face a harsh decision.

1) Take your time

It might seem a bit obvious, but it really is that simple.

When faced with a choice, any choice, under the effects of anxiety, we tend to be distracted.
I already talked about how that is our brain’s way to look for a way our, yet to form a concrete decision and focus purely on the task at hand you need to be able to slow down and think solely on it and it alone.

After all, hurry equals stress, and stress equals bad decisions.
On the flip side, distractions also prevent you from making a decision, and you simply end up being overwhelmed.

This entire process is called analysis paralysis, and it’s an absolute killer to any choices.
You find yourself unable to find this “one optimal decision”, either because you got overwhelmed and stressed out by your anxiety or because you chose to avoid choice and gave up.

Both examples are unfavorable, yet both are heavily related to your ability to manage your time.
Set a deadline, take the time to relax, take the time to make your choice, make yourself as much time as you can (within reason) and spend it on your daily activities, relaxation and decision making in equal parts.

Consider one part of the problem at the time, block away everything else and go through every single pro and con that you can think of in an orderly manner over a set time limit.

You don’t really control your anxiety, and it may pop up whenever, but by spreading your though process over time while using a time limit, you will both be able to come to a better conclusion, and actually make a decision, thus avoiding any potential analysis paralysis.

2) Consider pros and cons, one at a time – avoid multitasking!

When it really comes down to it, your brain does nothing but multitask when faced with stress.
It goes through every single “way out” it can come up with, leading it to consider many “ways out” at once.
After all, it does need a way out, and it does need to be quick about it.
So why not rush through anything and everything all at once?

In fact, the whole process of “decision making” is about considering two options (or more) at the same time, all the while coming up with a conclusion about which is better.

You go through pros, cons, “what if’s” and so much more, even without anxiety being added to the mix.
And the moment your brain starts going through all of these alternatives…
Yeah, making choices, decision making and anxiety are all being a part of you multitasking without ever realizing it!

You don’t just go one pro/con at a time, you consider several, and then some!
The problem is that you do a terrible job when it comes down to multitasking.

Research largely concludes that multitasking impairs your cognitive control, so that actually ends up working against you.
Not only does your anxiety limit the effectiveness of your pre-frontal cortex, but it also causes you to be distracted on top of that!
Your ability is being pulled down further below without you even realizing that!

Turn decision making into a system rather than an impulse

I’ve already talked about time management as a tool to handle decision making, but let’s take it up a notch.
Write down a list of pros and cons, do something else (say, taking a walk or napping), and come back to your list.
The next thing you want to do is to give every con a ranking using a negative number, and ever pro a ranking using a positive number.

Then add these up, write down the results below, and leave it be.
Come back to it later and review the cons, leave again, come back, and review the pros.

Do so multiple time, until you are either certain of your decision or your time ran out.

Sure, it might seem tedious, but it will prevent you from getting overwhelmed or avoiding a choice altogether, it’s for the best.

There is no optimal choice

We always come up with this excuse.
If a decision isn’t perfect, if something isn’t perfect, then it’s not good enough.

Choices aren’t about making the perfect decision, but rather the one that gives you the most while taking away the least.

By following the system that I have suggested, although it’s a very basic one, you will be able to avoid this idiot misconception.

Made the right choice

Treat your anxiety

The ultimate answer, though, would be to simply treat your anxiety.

Stress by itself isn’t a bad thing,  yet it’s a complete murder on your decision-making skills.
And you know what? Anxiety only makes it worse.

If your brain isn’t affected by stress to begin with you may very well find yourself making flawless decisions and being whole with every single one of them.

This may be a shocking idea to you, but in some cases it might really be just that simple.
Although it’s easier said than done.

My personal recommendation would be the “panic away” program, as well as picking up some meditation along the way

So here’s a question – When was the last time you faced an important decision and just froze?

Make sure to let me know in the comment section below, I read through every single one of them

If you have any questions you would like to ask me then make sure to send me an email – I reply to every single one of them!

Email: [email protected]

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2 thoughts on “Decision Making and Anxiety: A Never-ending Cycle”

  1. This is an excellent read. I have faced with multiple stressful positions before. Be it at work or personal life. The most important key point I learnt is to take a step back, take in a deep breath.

    I have a boss who once ever told me this and I will remember it for life. He said ‘whatever happened, it already happened. Now we are facing this situation, what would being anxious or overly stress bring you? We just have to face it and solve it to our best of capability.’ End of the day, the world still turns. Something that you might think would be critical or important to you but it may be a smaller issue than you can imagine.

    1. Hello there Leo!

      You are right of course, anxiety tends to come up with excuses to make smaller problems seem much bigger than they actually are.

      I am glad to hear that you noticed (or have been informed of) this pattern.

      Cheers, Vlad!

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