Anxiously Overwhelmed! — Why Can’t I Make a Decision

In a fit of exasperation have you ever blurted out, “My brain hurts?” Well, I have! It’s usually when I am confronted with having to make a decision and I can’t quite zero in on the solution or answer because of all the thoughts and possibilities swirling around in my head.

Our days are filled with opportunities where we have to make a choice. What time to set the alarm, what to have for breakfast, what to wear, what route to take to work, etc. The choices we make during the day are endless. And for the most part it’s nice to have options to pick from. But do you ever feel stymied from making a decision because there’s too many options?

Back in my school days there was one sentence my teachers could say that would strike instant anxiety and dread to my very soul. That sentence they would just casually throw out to the class would go like this, “The test will be at the end of the week so be prepared.” Now, the day of the week for the test didn’t matter to me in the least—it was the word, “test” I hated. Unless it was a spelling test which I was pretty good at, I HATED tests.

Each test had its own variation of questions such as story problems (sigh), fill in the blank (ugh), true/false, short answer, or multiple choice to name a few. I guess out of those, the multiple choice questions at least gave me something to pick from while hoping (and sometimes praying) that something would jog my memory as to the answer.

Back then I appreciated the multiple choice questions. With only four possible answers, using the process of elimination, I felt more confident coming up with the right answers.

Now suppose on those multiple choice questions, instead of four options for the answer there had been twenty or more options to pick from? How do you think my brain would react trying to choose out of the possible answers for one question? After about the seventh option with my anxiety building, my brain would feel like a tangled web of crossed wires. So instead of the many options being a blessing, they would actually become an overwhelming curse.

Back in the day, Yellow Pages introduced an ad that said, “Let your fingers do the walking!” Well, I guess today’s slogan would be, “Let your fingers do the clicking!” Because in today’s world, information is just a mere click away. Sometimes that’s good and can be quite helpful. However, if you spend anytime on the web you know that one click usually leads to another click and another click and so on and so on. And before you know it your brain starts to flash the warning lights. It’s indicating that it is headed into “information overload” Our brains can only process so much information at a time.

With the convenience and advancement of modern technology we are susceptible to a deluge of information and stimuli flooding our brain. Sometimes even to the detriment of our peace of mind. The quote, “Knowledge is power” is often attributed to Francis Bacon, from his Meditationes Sacrae. We all have heard this quote and probably even used it at times. But you know what? That quote was made in 1597. He had absolutely NO clue that one day we could hold in our hands a 5” x 3” iPhone and find anything and everything we wanted or think we needed to know in mere seconds.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for knowledge and learning. But it is all the unnecessary “gobbly gook” (pardon the expression) that we expose ourselves to that clog up our brains. It can make us feel overwhelmed and even anxious being presented with too much information and too many options to pick from — causing our brains to freeze and rendering us incapable of making a decision.

Let me put this information another way. I think you will get a clear picture of what I am talking about. Let’s imagine that you decide to go out for a walk in the country on a beautiful day. As you walk, your mind takes in all sorts of data. You notice the blue sky, the wind whispering through the trees, the wild flowers along the roadway, etc. Because of the pace, your brain can process the information and your nervous system can feel soothed. Now, let’s put your walk in Times Square in New York City. There’s Neon lights flashing, messages on billboards, noise, traffic and people everywhere. With your senses being assaulted with so much stimuli your brain can’t possibly take it all in.  Its fun, interesting, exciting, and over the top. But you wouldn’t sit in the midst of it and try to make a decision regarding your healthcare options, retirement plan or type of car to purchase, etc.

And yet that is what some of us do when we feel like we have to explore all the options out there before making a decision. Like I stated above, sometimes options are great and important to check out. But, at some point too many choices can become counterproductive and become a source of anxiety. You only have so much time in a day. You can’t optimize every decision there is to be made. So the next time you’re in the toothpaste aisle, (“can you believe that aisle?”) instead of stressing about all the choices, just grab one. If it doesn’t work for you — no big deal! There’s always the next time to try something different.

Did this blog resonate with you? Does your brain feel like it is always in the Times Square scenario? Do you feel anxious most of the time?  Or maybe you struggle to sort your thoughts out to make even simple decisions. If so, I invite you to call me at (616) 516-1570. Or, click on the blue “Contact tab” that pops up to schedule an appointment. Let’s find out what’s going on. Together, maybe we can find some “country lanes” for your brain to travel down. I’m sure you will find the pace there a more manageable and productive level.

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