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Decision Fatigue: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Decision fatigue is a term that describes tiredness making choices and decisions after a long day of making many decisions. This occurs when you have mental fatigue.

You feel decision fatigue when your ability of willpower to make decisions reduces in quality after a long period of decision making. Decision fatigue is also known as ego depletion.

People who are forced to make hard decisions throughout the day easily get decision fatigue because it is easier to make bad choices towards the end of the day.

How Decision Fatigue Can Affect Your Life

Decision fatigue can make you start looking for easier and shorter ways to do things or make decisions throughout the day. Some people might even give up and decide not to do anything when faced with choices and a decision to make.

For instance, you might respond to a friend or family member harshly, you might respond to a social media post or email angrily, splurge on clothes, eat junks when you know you shouldn’t; or even allow your mechanic rustproof your new car.

Most people are unaware of this condition but it can have lots of damaging and lasting consequences.

How to Avoid Decision Fatigue

  1. Your most important decisions should be made in the mornings

Your mind is strongest and sharpest in the morning hours. This is because you’ve not yet started your day and you have lots of energy for mental functions and decision making.

Make it a duty to put most of your decision making in the mornings. Your most important decisions should be in the morning. You can even create a morning routine that includes planning for your day and making decisions at this time.

  1. For less important decisions, go for simpler options

For lower priority decisions, and decisions that have no impact in the long- run, you can go for simpler options. You know big decisions require more time and more energy.

For decisions that are not important, decisions that do not have long-term consequences, look for the easiest thing to do or pick the option that makes you feel less overwhelmed.

  1. Avoid making big decisions when you are hungry

You might have heard about the dangers of food shopping while you are hungry. It is also dangerous to make decisions on an empty stomach.

Ghrelin is a hormone produced when you are hungry and this hormone negatively impacts your decision making. This will increase your chances of making bad decisions.

Increased levels of ghrelin make it difficult to resist a quick temptation. Ensure you are well-fed before taking any major decisions or decisions that have long-term consequences.

  1. Simplify and limit your choices

Narrowing your choices to two or three can help reduce the energy used or mental strain caused by making decisions. If you can’t find your choice within those options, find another three options.

This will help you not to be overwhelmed with all the information right in front of you.

  1. Go minimalist

Being minimalist will help you cut down on non-essential items. When you have only essential items, making decisions would be easy and quick.

You will enjoy life when you only have to make small and minor decisions. Having only the essentials will help you focus more on important things and cut down the number of decisions you have to make.

In adopting minimalism, you have to determine the most important things to you and pursue them. This will help reduce distractions and the number of decisions you have to make.

This will also make your life rich and fulfilling.

  1. Don’t aim for perfection

Aiming for perfection can drain you mentally and lead to decision fatigue. Aim for “good enough”. This will help you achieve your final goal with less effort and more ease.

If you believe that everything must be perfect, then you will be drained mentally. It will even make you start procrastinating.

Complete anything you start and leave it at good enough. You can revise it later and improve on it. There is always room for necessary changes.

  1. Get rid of distractions

If you are up for major decision making or work you have to get rid of distractions such as social media and emails. They would distract you and reduce the time you have to focus on the options at hand.

You can set aside a specific time of the day for going through your social media handles but this shouldn’t be when you are having an important decision to make.

Before you go shopping, write down what you are going to buy. This will reduce the number of decisions you have to make or else will have a lot of decisions to make on what to buy.

Remove all distractions from your life and decision making will become easy.

  1. Focus on the most important thing

If you have too many things to accomplish at a time, you might not accomplish your main priorities. You have to turn down some tasks to prevent this.

Set your goals according to their priority and make decisions based on this. This will help you to focus only on what’s important at the moment.

  1. Rest and sleep

The importance of rest, afternoon nap, and deep night sleep cannot be overemphasized. Rest and sleep energize you to carry on your normal activities.

They boost mental functions and help you make good decisions. You might have heard the phrase, “go and sleep over it”. Sleep boosts your decision making and empowers you mentally.

It improves your memory, cognitive functions, and alertness. Studies have even revealed that short afternoon naps are like Zamboni for the brain. They remove mental fogs and clear gunk that accumulates.

There is a theory by researchers known as “housekeeping theory”. This theory states that during sleep, your brain repairs and prunes away some connections between neurons.

This will convert short-term memory into long-term memory and also make room for new information that you will come across when you wake up.

A quick afternoon nap can help you overcome decision fatigue. It will reset your mental space and help you make better decisions for a while.

Your Diet, Lifestyle, and Decision Fatigue

Your diet and lifestyle can after how often you come down with decision fatigue. This happens because they can affect the production of neurotransmitters whose main functions are to boost mental health and functions.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that that carry, balance, and boost signals/communications between neurons and other cells in the body.

These biochemical messengers play a lot of functions in your body including regulating your mood, boosting your mental functions and cognition.

They work constantly to ensure your brain is working optimally. They also affect your learning, concentration level, and they can also affect your decision making.

There are many neurotransmitters in the body but I will be focusing on the ones that boost mental health, decision making and cognition.

  • GABA: Gama-aminobutyric acid regulates anxiety. It makes you calm and relaxed to make good decisions. It also promotes good vision.
  • Glutamate: This is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It boosts learning and memory and this can help with your decision making.
  • Endorphins: This reduces the feelings of pain and tiredness and it increases the feelings of pleasure and happiness. It is known as the “happiness hormone”.
  • Epinephrine: This is known as the “feel-good hormone”. It makes you happy and active to make major decisions.
  • Norepinephrine: The main function of this neurotransmitter is to keep you alert. It also regulates sleep.
  • Dopamine: This is known as the “motivation hormone”. It keeps you alert, motivated, and it releases the feelings of pleasure when a certain goal is achieved.
  • Serotonin: This hormone is associated with happiness, pleasure, motivation, and appetite. Low levels of this lead to depression and anxiety which can affect your decision-making skills.
  • Acetylcholine: This plays a great role in memory and learning and these will help you in making decisions.
  • Nitric oxide: This helps to boost the flow of blood to the brain and other vital organs and tissues of the body. This will boosts cognition and other mental functions.
  • Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP): This is the energy currency of the body. Low levels of this can affect your whole body including your mental functions and affect your decision-making skills.

The above neurotransmitters can affect your decision-making abilities either directly or indirectly. You have to look for ways to keep them at optimum levels to prevent a deficiency.

How Your Lifestyle and Diet Can Affect These Neurotransmitters

Your lifestyle and diet can affect the production, levels, and functions of these neurochemicals in your body. Some of the unhealthy lifestyle that can affect these neurochemicals are:

Dehydration: Less intake of water or intake of the wrong fluids can lead to dehydration which will affect the production of these hormones. They are in the form of liquid, so the body depends on water to make.

A 2% drop in the level of water in your body can affect the productions of these hormones. That is why most people have headaches when extremely thirsty.

Take in the right amount of water needed by your body. Listen to your body and don’t cross your limits. Take in more water after a strenuous physical exercise or during hot weather to replace the number of fluids lost when you sweat.

Wrong liquids like sugary drinks, processed fruits juices, and other commercial drinks make you more dehydrated. Your body makes use of its stores of water to digest them and expel those toxins and unnatural substances in these drinks.

So drink more plain water, increase your intake of herbal teas and watery fruits and vegetables.

Sleep: Sleep deficiency will destroy your mental health and even your physical body. During a state of deep sleep at night, your body heals itself. Your brain health is revamped and you will make better and healthier decisions.

Lack of sleep affects your decision-making skills. People who skip night sleep make hasty and unwise decisions. So make time for sleep as you make time for other important things because whether you know it or not, sleep is very important for your health.

Wrong Diet: Processed foods and unnatural foods containing harmful additives, preservatives, colorants, taste enhancers, and other unnatural chemicals are not healthy for your mental health.

These harmful chemicals interfere with the functions of these hormones in the body. They either increase their level beyond normal, or make them too low, or affect their functions.

An example is Aspartame which is found in almost all commercially produced foods and drinks including diet products. These harmful additives also reduce the levels of energy in your body.

That’s why they are called “empty calorie” foods. They don’t give you the energy to support your mental functions.

Healthy Foods: You need to increase your intake of healthy foods to help your body produce more energy. Healthy foods also support the production and functions of these neurotransmitters.

Natural foods will provide the right nutrients that your body needs to detoxify from harmful toxins that affect your mental health and energy levels. They are the real and lasting source of ATP.

Healthy foods that boost your mental health, increase your energy level, physical and mental strength, and the production of these neurotransmitters are:

  • Seeds e.g. sesame, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Nuts e.g. walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, peanuts, etc.
  • Avocados (a superfood for the brain)
  • Green leafy vegetables (they contain a bit of everything your body needs)
  • Garlic (3 cloves a day keeps the doctor away)
  • Colorful fruits and vegetables
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Probiotic-rich foods like fermented fruits and veggies
  • Soybeans
  • Tomatoes
  • Cruciferous vegetables e.g. cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, etc.
  • White tea and green tea
  • Mushrooms
  • Buckwheat
  • Sprouted grains
  • Brown rice
  • Adzuki beans

When it comes to brain health and your overall mental health, you need a balanced diet. You need whole grains, carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, minerals, vitamins, water, and phytochemicals.

Your diet plays huge roles in your decision making by empowering your mental health and functions.

References;

  1. Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? NYTM
  2. The cure for decision fatigue WSJ
  3. Decision fatigue JHP
Ebiojo David
I am a Biochemist and Naturopath, I love writing and educating people on health and wellness matters.

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