I walked into the dietician’s office and slumped down in a chair. I had brought a notebook and pen, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull it out of my bag. “What can I do for you today?” she asked me.
I sighed, took a deep breath and searched for words. ‘What could she do for me?’ I didn’t even know where to start. I took another deep breath and then simply said, “I just need you to tell me what to eat.”
She looked at me with kind eyes, but she did not spring into action to give me a menu. She didn’t even ask me if there were any foods that I didn’t like or that I was allergic to. I was puzzled, but what started out as me trying to find an easy solution to dieting, turned into a conversation about the need for me to take control of my life, and ended with her telling me that it sounded like I was suffering from decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue? Is that a real thing? Well according to the dietician, or rather the nutrition counselor (since they actually do a whole lot more than tell a person what to eat), I didn’t need to worry about food as much as I needed to worry about my schedule. I recently read an article about decision fatigue among teachers that stated that teachers make over 1500 decisions on any given work day, so no wonder they would struggle with decision making at home. It stands to reason that being a single parent might also cause decision fatigue.
So, if decision fatigue is a real thing, then what is it and what can you do about it? I went to a nutrition counselor hoping that she would take the decision-making out of my hands, by telling me what to eat because I was simply too overwhelmed to decide what to buy, what to cook, and what to eat. After spending my days as a single mom, it never occurred to me that I was making so many small decisions that I was literally overwhelmed by things like deciding what to wear, what toothpaste to buy for me and for my children, what meals to prepare, what story to read, what time to go to bed, and the list goes on. I realized that I probably do make hundreds of decisions a day without even thinking about it, but at some point, it does become burdensome to do it all alone without a break. That is decision fatigue.
What to do about decision fatigue
1. If possible, share the load. Don’t make decisions that aren’t yours to make. Sometimes this isn’t possible because there isn’t anyone to share the load. What I sometimes do is think of three things I’m willing to cook and let my kids choose based on what they would like to help me make. It helps me spread the responsibility when they help in the kitchen and it’s a good bonding experience.
2. Make time for yourself that involves minimum decisions. For me this might involve a bath, a glass of wine and a book. It might involve watching TV, but at any rate, even a half an hour of time to just breathe deeply and calm down can replenish yourself as a decision-making machine. Sometimes we just need a break. Sure, a bath still involves decisions, but they are the low stress variety.
3. Sometimes it’s okay to put off something until tomorrow. We’ve all heard the saying don’t save for tomorrow, that which can be done today, but sometimes waiting is better for you. You don’t have to be a superhero every day. It’s okay to just avoid the decision about laundry or grocery
shopping if you are too overwhelmed to make good decisions. Better to put off a decision until tomorrow than to start making dicey decisions.
We are constantly making decisions and sometimes it gets to be too much. I don’t ever let the big things go, but sometimes the smaller decisions like what to wear or where to sit in a movie become overwhelming to me. I try to keep my sense of humor and try to minimize my decisions if I feel myself getting anxious.
Seeing the dietician helped me put my schedule in perspective and to recognize when I’m struggling with decision overload, when I’m literally too tired to make simple decision. When this happens, I do try to intentionally relax and minimize my serious decisions, and table anything that I can, but sometimes I long for someone to share the load with me. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still hopeful that there is someone out there capable of taking me on a decision-free weekend every once in a while.
Decision fatigue does not have to be chronic. Just check in with yourself and accept that it’s okay to be overwhelmed sometimes and cut yourself a break. Lean on friends, kids, or a significant other to help share the load, and remember that not every decision is grave, so have fun when you can. Better to postpone decisions rather than making dicey decisions.