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Dave Roberts, Licensed Master Social Worker speaks on the inner-workings of decision making and stress as the holidays close

By Jessica Szabo

Think about the last time you made a decision. You probably thought of your last major purchase, such as your car or furniture, or about a major life event, such as moving or taking a job. But we actually make decisions all the time. The choice to read this article was a decision. You could have chosen another activity, such as watching t.v. or reading a book at this time. 

If you are like most people, you did not expend a lot of time and energy deciding whether to read this article or read a book or watch TV. But you probably did think over several factors and spend some time making the decision to take your current job, or purchase the car you drive.

 “I think that it is important to spend a sufficient amount of time and energy when entertaining any major life decisions about such life events as college, career, marriage, and having children,” said Licensed Master Social Worker Dave Roberts. 

Any decision that we make is based on what is going on with us in the present, and over time may need to be re-assessed anyway, due to changed circumstances. This is why I don’t recommend overthinking or focusing on making the perfect decision. It is more important to focus on your decision making process. Did I look at the pros and cons of the choices I was considering? Did I gather enough information to make an informed decision? Did I solicit feedback from other individuals who dealt with similar decisions? Is the decision I am about to make consistent with my currents beliefs, values and desires? If that or a similar process is followed, then any decision you make will be good enough.”

Devoting time and energy to important decisions is perfectly reasonable, but many people put too much stress on themselves. They agonize over relatively minor choices, and move from thought and care into ruminating over the major ones. It is not always true that the more time and energy devoted to a decision, the better. Often the “good enough decision,” the one made with the care and concern Roberts mentioned above, but without unnecessary ruminating and stress, is best.

Consider the following example. Imagine you need to purchase a desk for your home work space. Conventional wisdom on decision making would have you doing everything from drawing up a budget for the shopping trip to narrowing your choices down to three desks, to measuring your room and consulting color charts to ensure that the desk is the perfect item for the corner of your living room or bedroom. It could take weeks to decide on a desk. 

Someone who had decided to make a “good enough” decision would simply put aside whatever they could afford to spend on the desk, take a reasonable amount of time to consider space, color scheme, and work needs, go to stores that sold desks for that amount, and purchase the first one that met their needs. 

Both people would wind up with a desk, but the first one would agonize over the decision, and likely worry about it afterward, wondering if there were not a desk that would be much better out there. The one who made the “good enough” decision would not experience the same excessive stress, which can be damaging to one’s physical and mental health. 

“I would say that it would be better to make a ‘good enough’ decision when you are faced with two equally desirable alternatives. Rather than subject yourself to undue stress, choose the alternative that speaks to you the most at that time. Given the fact that any decision we make will be reassessed over time anyway, it is possible to be able to return to the positive alternative that you initially rejected,” Roberts noted.

I think that it is also better to make a ‘good enough decision’ in cases where you don’t have enough information to choose a particular course of action. We can experience both debilitating emotions and external pressure from others to make a decision before we are prepared to do so. In certain situations, sometimes the best action is no action at all.”

Reasonable amounts of stress are healthy and necessary. Having no stress in your life would mean you were not concerned about anything at all. Most of us would not even bother to pay the bills or show up for work if we experienced no stress over the thought of losing our paycheck or our lights and hot water. It is going through more stress than necessary to motivate you that causes damage. 

Stress can produce fatigue, headaches, upset stomach, difficulty sleeping, frequent colds and other infections, and chest pains. It can contribute to health problems such as diabetes and heart issues. 

Chronic stress, the experience of stressing oneself out over decisions, can also lead to emotional and cognitive difficulties, and even contribute to mental illnesses like anxiety disorder and depression. Ironically, stressing oneself out over decisions can even lead to a decreased ability to make decisions in the future. 

“I believe that too much stress can cause us to make worse decisions because we become overwhelmed with anxiety and fear, and are not thinking clearly. If we are not thinking clearly, our ability to make informed decisions become severely compromised,” Roberts said.

Excessive anxiety and fear tends to severely impact our ability to function effectively in all areas of our lives, including decision making. If individuals are prone to stress, activities such as meditation, exercise, and spending time in nature may help to reduce it and positively impact our ability to make informed decisions.”

This impact can even extend into decisions that had nothing to do with the stressful incident. A person who is stressed out over a fight with a spouse at home may find their decision making at work is impaired. Someone stressed out over school might make poor personal decisions. These can even include decisions that affect other people. 

“To me, excessive stress causes us to be so focused on what is going on inside of us and self-absorbed, that that we tend not to be conscious of the impact that our behavior has on others,” Roberts said.” From my experience in working with individuals experiencing a variety of challenges, excessive stress impacts their ability to effectively listen to others or respond to cues that would aide them in responding effectively to other people’s needs. “

Utica Phoenix Staff
Utica Phoenix Staff
The Utica Phoenix is a publication of For The Good, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) in Utica, NY. The Phoenix is an independent newsmagazine covering local news, state news, community events, and more. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and also check out Utica Phoenix Radio at 95.5 FM/1550 AM, complete with Urban hits, morning talk shows, live DJs, and more.

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