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Decision Fatigue: How Special Needs Families Are Affected + Ways to Combat It

Did you know that on a daily basis, the average person makes 35,000 decisions? However, special-needs parents make more than the average, adding to the stress of decision fatigue.

Our decision-making process starts the moment we wake up. Or many times we’ve been ruminating on the pros and cons of a decision in our sleep.

Should I hit the snooze button or get out of bed? Do I try to shower before my son wakes up, or do I wait until he gets home from therapy? What should I wear? What should HE wear? What if the school bus is late again, what are my options? What should I cook for dinner? What if “this” or what if “that”, and then what do we do? Is this the best decision for my child? Most special needs parents make a plethora of decisions on a daily basis.

And frankly, it’s one of the top contributors to stress and burnout.

So, how can we combat it? What are the signs? What are its effects? Let’s tackle all of these questions below.

What is decision fatigue?

Decision fatigue, also known as ego depletion, is a psychological phenomenon that affects a person's decision-making ability or capacity.

The theory behind it is that after making a lot of decisions, a person's ability to make decisions deteriorates because their brain will be fatigued. This applies to all decisions — not just the big and difficult ones.

What are the signs?

A person suffering from decision fatigue may feel tired, have brain fog, be overwhelmed, stressed, or exhibit other physical or mental symptoms.

Decision fatigue effects

Decision fatigue affects a lot of people, and it manifests in different ways for different people. Some possible effects include:

  • Impulse buying

  • Reluctant/takes longer in making decisions; vacillating and flip-flopping

  • Decision avoidance; procrastinate or ignore

The point is, if your brain is worn out, it may hinder you from making quality decisions and not thinking things through with clarity of mind.

How do I fight it?

So, what’s the solution?

The first step in overcoming decision fatigue is to alter our habits or beliefs around decision-making. We train ourselves to enjoy making decisions and believe we are making the best decisions at the moment. Many times we put a lot of pressure and stress on ourselves regarding decisions we make for our children. I want to encourage you; you are making the best decision with the information you have. If the situation changes, you just make another decision.

  • Remove emotional aspect from the decision-making process

Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty can crowd out our objectivity and sound judgement. Removing anxious emotions around the decision will give you more clarity. Try writing down the facts of the situation to give yourself time to process and help you make a logical and better decision without stressful emotions.

  • Remove distractions

Using your phone, browsing social media, or watching television can deplete your energy. Sometimes, we check our phone or social media because we are buffering and avoiding a decision or a problem.

Getting rid of these distractions can help you feel less tired, thus more focused and productive on the tasks at hand.

  • Plan ahead!

Did you know that making plans ahead of time helps you avoid other types of decision fatigue? For example, you could make a meal plan and prepare meals for the week ahead of time. Simplify and automate routines. Or plan your child’s activities for the week!

This helps you make better decisions in the moment and save your brainpower for more important tasks.

  • Take a break

I know it is hard to take care of a special needs child. From planning the day to making sure they get their activities done to therapy sessions and basically just everything in between, it sure can be draining leaving you with no energy for the remaining time.

Many times, physical and emotional fatigue lead to poor choices (ie, picking up fast food often for dinner). You can recharge by taking rest breaks as needed throughout the day. Taking a short power- nap to help refresh your brain is very beneficial! A quick 5-minute walk outside in the fresh air or a 5-minute daydreaming meditation is also rejuvenating!

You got this!

In a nutshell, putting decision-making and daily routines on autopilot as much as possible will help you reduce the stress you feel as a caregiver. In turn, you will have more energy, wisdom, and willpower to make the most important decisions.

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