Feeling stressed from making decisions? Here are 4 tips for dealing with decision fatigue.

by Kaiser Permanente |
Woman looks thoughtful while sitting on couch

Day after day we’re faced with many decisions. They can be both big and small — from what to wear and eat to bigger life decisions that involve family, money, and more. So, it’s not surprising that the stress of constant decision-making can wear on our mental health. If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of making another decision, then you may be experiencing decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is the idea that our ability to make decisions can get worse after making many decisions.1 According to Kaiser Permanente psychiatric social worker Leigh Miller, LCSW, “it’s when your mind feels mentally and emotionally overwhelmed from making many decisions at one time or in a row.” This can happen because the act of choosing takes mental energy. Studies have found that decision quality declines after an extensive period of decision-making.2 So, if you have too many decisions to make, you can feel drained and stressed afterward. This may cause you to procrastinate or make poor choices.

Here are a few tips to help you overcome decision fatigue and take care of your mental health.

Create simple routines

“Decisions take energy,” explains Miller. So, cut down on the number of decisions you need to make by simplifying your routine. That could mean eating the same breakfast during the week. Or choosing the clothes you’ll wear the night before. You could even create a daily uniform so you won’t have to decide what to wear in the moment. “By creating routines that then turn into habits, we reduce the number of decisions we need to make — and conserve our energy for bigger tasks and decisions,” says Miller.

Make a list of priorities

Writing things down helps get thoughts off your mind and onto paper. Studies show that journaling can help reduce stress, relieve symptoms of depression, and increase resilience.3 And writing lists by hand is a good way to organize your thoughts and keep stress in check. Try writing down the top 3 tasks you want to complete or decisions you need to make. As you cross items off your list, it can help you stay positive and productive.

Ask for advice

The pressure to make decisions on our own can be overwhelming — even emotionally exhausting. When faced with difficult decisions, it may help to reach out to a trusted friend or family member. You can talk through your choices together. Connecting with others can be a helpful way to cope and make decisions, especially during uncertain or stressful times.

Find time for self-care

Our schedules are often packed with everyday responsibilities. But it’s important we also fit in moments for self-care. Try a brisk walk outside or take a midday nap to recharge for the rest of the day. “Deep breathing, stretching, and taking a moment to focus on how we’re feeling is a good way to slow down and give our brains a rest,” explains Miller. You’ll then be reenergized and ready to make decisions with a clearer mind.

Remember, small changes to your routine can make a big impact. So, take time for a mindful moment and make tweaks to your everyday habits. It can help reduce stress and decision fatigue — and support your mental health. You can also choose from a broad range of on-demand self-care resources, including self-care apps to help with stress, sleep, anxiety, and more.

Jon Johnson, "What Is Decision Fatigue?Medical News Today, July 6, 2020.

David Hirshleifer et al., "Decision Fatigue and Heuristic Analyst Forecasts," Journal of Financial Economics, July 2019.

Joshua M. Smit et al., "Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients with Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial," Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health, June 13, 2018.