Have you heard of “decision fatigue”? You may not have heard of it, but I bet you have experienced it. We have many more decisions to make during this pandemic and what used to be a simple decision is often quite complicated these days. The process of decision-making can be exhausting and overwhelming at times. Learn more about “decision fatigue” and activities to give your brain a break.
What is ‘decision fatigue’?
Estimates are that we make between 10,000 and 40,000 decisions a day. I suspect, for caregivers, it is closer to 40,000 a day! What can develop is “decision fatigue” or mental/cognitive overload. We get depleted because of the mental energy required to make decisions.
Now, let’s add a pandemic to the issue of decision-making. With the government’s emergency measures, many decisions were made for us:
- I can go to work. I can’t go to work.
- I can go the long-term facility for a visit. I can’t go to the care facility for a visit.
- I can go for a meal at a restaurant. I can’t go for a meal at a restaurant.
“Decision fatigue” and stages of reopening
As we move through stages of reopening, we are faced with making many more decisions ourselves. Also, what used to be a simple decision is now a complex one. To complicate it even more, there is uncertainty and much we don’t know about COVID-19, so there isn’t always a ‘right’ decision to be made. As a result, making the decision can be a longer and more tiring process of weighing options, opinions and sifting through confusing and, at times, contradictory information.
Have you noticed that you are exhausted or more tired than usual? This “decision fatigue” might be the culprit, or one of the culprits! What I have noticed is that thinking about timing has also become part of the decision-making process. That is, it’s no longer just the decision to go shopping, but when to go shopping. And the question of timing applies to virtually every activity outside my home.
Is it safe? Yes, no, maybe, I don’t know
We aren’t just making more decisions. We often need to revisit previous decisions based on changing information. Most of these decisions revolve around questions of safety. The decision whether to wear a mask is currently the best example of such a decision, although mandatory mask laws are spreading in Canada.
A flurry of decisions caregivers are making
- Is it safe to visit my parents now? Will we visit inside or stay outside? Will I bring the grandkids? Will we wear masks inside?
- Is it too soon to take Mom or Dad to the hairdresser? Is that a wise thing to do right now or should we hold off?
- Will we pick up on our pre-pandemic plan to look at retirement homes or will we try and do everything possible for Mom and Dad to stay in their home? Or maybe we should look at renovating and having them move in with us? How will we afford that?
- Should we book an appointment with the doctor? Is the office even open for regular appointments?
- How often will I go to the long-term care home to visit Dad? What are their regulations? What are they doing to keep residents safe?
- Should we start or resume home care services? How can we prepare for a potential second wave?
- And on and on.
Also, these decisions related to caregiving are on top of all the other decisions we need to make for ourselves and our families. Again, the list relates to many every day activities that we used to take for granted or at least didn’t require much mental energy:
- Is it safe to take the kids to the beach?
- Should I see my dentist or wait?
- Do I need to take the car in for servicing?
- Can I go to cottage country? Take a vacation?
- Go to a friend’s pool for a swim?
- Are we going to send our kids to school in September? What will we do if they continue online learning? What about my job?
- And on and on again.
Our ‘higher brain’ does the heavy lifting
It is our pre-frontal cortex, sometimes referred to as our higher brain, where decisions are made after a process of analyzing and exploring the options. What can we do to help ourselves, our higher brain, during this intense time of decision-making? Take regular breaks to give our higher brain time to recuperate and regain the energy and focus to make decisions.
The brain as a muscle
The pre-frontal cortex has been described as a “muscle” that makes decisions. Like any other muscle, it needs to have a rest between workouts (decisions) to recover its strength.
So how does the brain rest? There are simple relaxing activities that are distractions from thinking and give our brains that much needed break.
Giving your brain a break: 10 activities
- Call a friend
- Do the dishes or some cleaning
- Go for a walk, ideally in nature
- Listen to music
- Water the plants
- Do some gardening
- Play with your dog or cat
- Let yourself just daydream and fantasize
- Have a nap
- Sleep. Our brains recover their energy when we sleep at night.
How do you give your brain a break? We would love to hear from you.