Stressed Out? Don't Make Any Big Decisions Before Doing These 3 Things
Would you want to be making big decisions while drunk?
No? Well, you should also think about your ability to make decisions while stressed!
Adults make 35 000 decisions every day!
Stress short-circuits the area in the brain responsible for decision making.
The pre-frontal cortex is the area in the front of your brain that helps make decisions. It acts as a gate-keeper, slowing down the decision making process to give you enough time to weigh risks and benefits, rewards and consequences.
Your pre-frontal cortex isn't fully developed until well into your twenties and can be easily turned off with substances like alcohol and in stressful situations.
For example, you would want to be able to make a quick decision in a stressful situation like where to swerve when you notice a car flying towards you in the wrong lane.
However, many of us are now chronically stressed or anxious and our pre-frontal cortex is spending more and more time offline!
Reducing anxiety is especially important during chaotic times, when you feel overwhelmed, or that your life is out of control. During times of distress, research shows that people are likely to make poor decisions which can exacerbate anxiety, lead to more bad decisions and snowball into a downward spiral.
Here are three things you need to do before making a decision that could seriously affect your life:
1. Take A Break
Decision fatigue is the concept that the more decisions you make in a day, the less thought you will give to decisions made later in the day. By late in the day, you have fatigued your mental resources and are more likely to act or respond with less careful thought.
Taking a break will increase your capacity for decision making.
2. Understand your Body
The more self-aware you are, the easier it will be to keep your head straight in stressful situations. Understand the fact that when you are stressed or anxious, your cortisol increases, your frontal lobe is less active, and therefore you are more likely to make a decision that will put yourself or others at risk. Then, understand how you can counteract your body's natural reactions.
Diaphragmatic breathing your best front-line defence for stress and anxiety. Taking a few deep breaths will instantly activate your parasympathetic nervous system and vagus nerve which slows down your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and puts you in a calmer state of mind. If you ever find yourself in an overstimulating and stressful situation that requires a rapid fire decision, slow down and take a few deep breaths before planning your course of action.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a very powerful tool against stress and anxiety. Research has found that individuals who practice mindfulness based stress reduction are more likely to make ethical decisions.
Here is a quick mindful breathing exercise:
This exercise can be done standing up or sitting down, and pretty much anywhere at any time. If you can sit down in the meditation (lotus) position, that's great, if not, no worries.
Either way, all you have to do is be still and focus on your breath for just one minute.
Start by breathing in and out slowly. One breath cycle should last for approximately 6 seconds.
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, letting your breath flow effortlessly in and out of your body.
Let go of your thoughts. Let go of things you have to do later today or pending projects that need your attention. Simply let thoughts rise and fall of their own accord and be at one with your breath.
Purposefully watch your breath, focusing your sense of awareness on its pathway as it enters your body and fills you with life.
Then watch with your awareness as it works work its way up and out of your mouth and its energy dissipates into the world.
If you are someone who thought they’d never be able to meditate, guess what? You are half way there already!
What to do next if you're stressed?
If you're stuck in a cycle of rut-like thinking and behaviour, a change of attitude and decision-making can turn your life around.
Does this resonate with you? Watch out for my Stressed to Centred Program coming soon!
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