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My Toolbox for Coping When Decision Fatigue and Anxiety Meet

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Decision fatigue can happen to us all. During high stress periods in our life where a lot of seemingly important choices have to be made in short order, sometimes we hit a point where it all feels like too much. We want the pressure to ease up, and for other people to take the helm for a while so we can catch our breath.

I’m currently at that point in my life. I desperately feel like I need a break. I live with generalized anxiety disorder, which already makes decision-making difficult on even a good day. When the pressure is on to get multiple things done, it becomes even harder to focus or function.

My husband and I are planning to move in the next month or so. The property we are working towards is a foreclosure, so we have the opportunity to purchase it much cheaper than the average house would cost, placing the possibility of homeownership within our reach. Due to the circumstances, however, there are many steps that must be taken before the home is officially ours and we can move in. While I understand this process doesn’t happen overnight, everything feels like it is going forward at a snail’s pace, hitting snags left and right along the way.

Multiple times a week, I have to call up to check on the progress of all these things that are holding up the whole process. Three or four phone calls, two to three times a week, six to 12 calls in total. You wouldn’t think six to 12 calls in a week would be a big deal — but when you have anxiety, it can feel all-encompassing.

Before I make a single call, my mind has already played out every possible outcome and has latched onto multiple negative ones as feeling the most probable. My mind has already imagined it all coming apart, falling like dominoes. My husband and I have boxes waiting to be packed, but my anxiety talks me out of it again and again.

“No sense packing until we know for sure we’re moving, let alone exactly when.”

“What if I pack something and then need it again?”

It feels like we’re stagnating, caught in limbo, waiting on other people, going through our own personal variation of the movie Groundhog Day, frozen like a deer in the headlights, unable to do anything or make any progress.

It’s utterly exhausting. Between a handful of phone calls and the marathons my mind runs trying to predict the outcome of those calls, I struggle to accomplish anything else most days. Please don’t expect me to even pick something to watch or what to have for dinner, because I’m overwhelmed enough already. Six to 12 phone calls while we wait for paperwork and for all of our ducks to get in a row. Seems simple enough. Yet it has my life in a chokehold and at a standstill.

That is where my mental wellness toolbox comes in. Over the years, I have acquired different techniques that I’ve found work for me when my anxiety is through the roof. While they do not get rid of my anxiety disorder or its symptoms — it is a medical diagnosis, after all, that requires medical treatment — these techniques do provide distraction, as well as a chance to recenter myself and take my mind off of the situation for a bit.

By the end of one of my phone call days last week, I was so flustered and agitated that I had trouble even sitting still. I took advantage of that restlessness to go for a moonlit walk with my husband. The air had started to cool and there were fireflies flittering about. I set aside all the stress as best as I could and allowed myself to be in the moment.

By the end of another phone call day, I was feeling like I had little control over anything, and that my life and my fate were in everyone else’s hands. I addressed this by putting control of something back into my hands by focusing on art. I picked up some clay and got lost in a project. I sculpted and painted, setting aside the stresses of the day for a few hours.

My mental wellness toolbox is full of so many different helpful options. I cook and bake. I escape into movies, shows and books. I’ve taken meditation, yoga, and tai chi classes. I’ve learned, largely through trial and error, what works for me in different circumstances.

Everyone’s toolboxes are different. My husband, for example, works on computers and cars, plays real time strategy and simulator games, or builds models when his stress gets high. Your wellness toolbox might have similar techniques, or different ones altogether.

As cliched as it may sound, talking can also help a lot. My husband and I will vent to each other when our stress levels get high, or check in with each other if things feel off. Talking to our therapist helps, as well. Sometimes just verbalizing our struggles and frustrations removes a weight and makes them feel more manageable.

While we can’t prevent decision fatigue from setting in, we don’t have to let it control and consume our lives, either. It is important to remember that, though the situation at hand may feel all-encompassing, it is only one portion of our lives. While we can’t make the anxiety and stress of decision fatigue disappear altogether, we can find temporary distractions in order to give our minds a break. Do what you can when you can, and remember to take care of yourself along the way.

Getty image by Oleh_Slobodeniuk

Originally published: July 28, 2022
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