One of the collective symptoms of the Covid-19 pandemic is a feeling of unfamiliarity and uncertainty about what’s going on in the world. According to new research, these feelings are beginning to permeate our personal lives as well, resulting in many people experiencing what psychologists have dubbed “decision paralysis.”
What is decision paralysis?
According to a study conducted in August by the American Psychological Association, more than 32 percent of adults surveyed (more than 3,000) are experiencing decision paralysis in light of the pandemic. Those who suffer from decision paralysis will agonize over decisions, even if they are small and seemingly arbitrary, like which shirt to wear or what to eat for dinner.
“The pandemic’s seemingly never-ending repercussions create hypervigilance,” says clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear, Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D. What we used to see as inconsequential choices before the pandemic can potentially have quite significant outcomes now, and in this environment, we feel the need to scan any decision we are faced with for potential negative effects or backlash.
“Before the pandemic, simple activities such as going to the store or joining an exercise class didn’t require much thought or decision-making because we didn’t live in fear of spreading or contracting a life-threatening illness,” Dr. Manly explains. “But now, even the simplest social events leave us faced with a variety of often uncomfortable decisions, as well as potential judgment for deciding to engage or not engage with safety protocols.”
The new weight that many of our decisions have has begun to generate a sense of baseline anxiety and stress, which can make us feel more burnt out on all levels—emotionally, mentally, and physically. “Our psyches and bodies are depleted as a result of our constant efforts to make the right calls, despite the eerie feeling that even our best-made decisions won’t give us the stability and relief we truly crave.”
How to cope with decision-paralysis
Pretend you’re someone else and view your decision from that perspective
According to Dr. Leaf, taking a mental step back from a situation can help you see it more clearly. “If we consciously observe our thinking, feeling, and choices as though we are watching someone else, it can help calm the mind, which, in turn, calms the frontal love of the brain,” she explains. This can help slow you down in the moment, which can also prevent you from hastily making a decision that comes from a place of stress or fear.
Remind yourself that it’s normal to struggle with decisions right now
Instead of getting upset with yourself for struggling with indecision (which can lead to additional feelings of stress), try to accept decision fatigue when it happens, and see it as a reasonable reaction to the pandemic rather than something that should be suppressed.
Subject small decisions to random chance
If you are faced with a small decision that you know won’t actually have huge consequences, then consider flipping a coin to determine which option you should choose. Often, while the coin is in the air, you will end up hoping for it to land on a certain side, and this guides you towards the choice you want to make. If you feel indifferent about either option, then allowing the coin to make the choice for you removes any stress you would have felt in making the decision yourself.
Enlist a loved one
Turning to a trusted friend or family member is a good strategy for when you can’t seem to shake off your indecision. “For example, if you know that clothing decisions tend to add to your stress, ask a good friend to help you pick out a few go-to outfits whenever you’re both in a relaxed mood,” Dr. Manly suggests. Then, when you actually have to throw an outfit together, you can be comforted by the fact that you and your friend have already put together options for your convenience.