By Alana Gregg, MS
Think about a time you were with a group of friends and you were trying to pick a restaurant to go to. Did you offer a suggestion or did you stay quiet? Maybe you used the common “I don’t care” line when your friends came to you for an idea. You may think this means that you are easy going and are able to just hang back while the more dominant personalities decide. It’s possible that you really didn’t care. But now think about another moment where you had to make a decision. Do you notice a pattern? This may seem like an insignificant thing but it can signal a much larger anxiety issue that may impact other areas of your life.
Here are 5 things that may signal your indecisiveness is due to anxiety:
1. You play out every what if scenario– It is difficult to make a decision because there is always a down side. Maybe you pick a restaurant and there ends up being a long wait that makes everyone cranky and hungry. Maybe you think the menu looks good but when you taste the food it does not live up to expectations. One big aspect of anxiety is having to play out every what if scenario in your head to avoid any possible danger or bad outcomes. No matter what you choose, something could go wrong.
2. You can’t be blamed if something goes wrong– Another reason it is hard to make a decision is because you then hold the responsibility if things don’t go well. If something goes wrong, it is a lot easier to say it wasn’t my decision and pass the buck onto someone else. This means we can never be a failure because we haven’t actually had to try.
3. You are a people pleaser– If you pick the restaurant, there may be someone in your group that doesn’t like your choice. When you have to make a decision, there will always be people that have an opinion about what you should do. But no matter what we choose to do, there will be someone that is not happy with us. So the fear of letting people down becomes overwhelming because we care so much about their approval. It is easier then to just let someone else decide because then we don’t risk having someone be upset with us.
4. You get overwhelmed by too many choices– Sometimes when we have to make a decision, there are so many choices that it can become paralyzing. When our anxiety takes over, our body shuts down and cannot physically concentrate on the task at hand. So instead, we end up not doing anything. This is often misinterpreted as laziness or apathy, when in reality, it means you care so much about doing a good job it is crippling.
5. You fear the unpredictable– If all activities must unfold according to planned, then we will either spend a massive amount of our time worrying and overthinking or we will avoid that thing altogether. When we fear the unexpected, we often spend our time and energy being hypervigilant. If I can perfectly anticipate every bad outcome then I can avoid experiencing anything scary. This makes decisions difficult because there is no perfect choice.
How to make a decision without letting anxiety paralyze you:
1. When you are feeling overwhelmed by a decision, make a plan for how you will move forward in a way that feels more manageable. Start with a little bit of research. If I need to pick a restaurant, I can look at one restaurant website a day for three days and write down what I liked or didn’t like about each one.
2. Narrow down your options. It feels impossible to decide between 20 restaurants but it is much easier to decide between 2 or 3.
3. Ask for recommendations. You may not have been to that new restaurant in town but you know someone who has. Keep in mind their taste may be different than yours.
4. Make the best decision with the information that you have. Accept that you are a finite human who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
5. Expect the unexpected. Know that you will not be able to predict or avoid every negative outcome. Be flexible. You might still feel anxious when things don’t go well, but it will not ruin your day.
When do I need help?
We all experience anxiety at different times. We feel anxious when we have to make a big decision, when we are doing something new or scary, when our performance is being graded, or when we are feeling insecure about what others think of us. The list could go on. But if your anxiety is impacting your ability to function day to day or if you find yourself avoiding things so you won’t have to feel uncomfortable, it may be time to ask for help. Our counselors at Lime Tree Counseling offer anxiety counseling and are trained in helping people learn new skills to cope with their anxiety so they can live a more fulfilling life. There is no magic wand to take your fear away, but you can choose to stop letting it paralyze you. Call us today to schedule an appointment or a free 15-minute phone consultation.