Wisdom//

4 Ways to Stress Less Over Tough Decisions

Here's how to make the process a lot more painless.

Epoxydude/Getty Images
Epoxydude/Getty Images

Choose Ease over Difficulty

There is a tendency for anxious  people to ask “what if ” questions followed by negative statements, which ultimately increases anxiety. As I noted earlier, your brain will try to answer whatever question or problem you pose — so if you ask questions that suggest difficulty (e.g., “What if this will be hard?”, “What if it takes a really long  time?”),  your  brain  will come  up  with thoughts, feelings, and memories to answer your questions (e.g., “I remember the last time I looked  for work, I was so frustrated because it took way longer  than I expected it to. I wonder if this time will be just as hard?”). Similarly, there is a tendency to expect  that life will be difficult and painful, and that goals and dreams take a long time to come to fruition. Notice how tempted you are to make things difficult, hard,  or a struggle.

As you practice asking  more positively oriented questions and  making positive statements, also practice anticipating that positive  things can happen in your life. What if it were easy? What if everything worked smoothly? What if we had fun while working our  way through this problem? What if we laughed about all the things  we found challenging? Alternatively, you can turn  all of these questions into statements or affirmations:

  • “It will be easy.”
  • “Everything will work out smoothly.”
  • “Let’s turn  this into something really fun.”
  • “Let’s just laugh at these challenges.”

Consequences and Loss

Decisions, by their very nature, imply loss. One thing gets chosen, and one or more do not. Sometimes you experience anxiety over having to face a loss. Loss is tied to sadness, anger, helplessness,  and disappointment. You might delay making decisions and find them hard to make so you won’t have to deal with the loss nor the feelings it invokes. Instead, you just feel anxious.

Besides writing out the  traditional “pros and  cons” list that people often recommend in this  kind of situation, here is another strategy to consider.

Visualizing Decisions

  1. Set aside roughly  20 minutes to sit quietly and just focus on deep breathing and quieting your mind.
  2. When you feel fully relaxed, take each available choice for your situation and run  through your mind  how you see it playing out, from beginning to end.  Pay special attention to the feelings each choice  elicits, whether pleasant or unpleasant.
  3. Consider the  consequences in the  short  term  (over the next few weeks or months) and the long term  (in three, five, or ten years).
  4. Return to a relaxed state and  take some time to absorb what your experience of loss may be if you were to make one choice over the other.
  5. For each choice you considered, write down the thoughts, images, and feelings that surfaced.

*Companion worksheets, guided exercises, and more resources can be found at www.DrJoanRosenberg.com/resources90/

Excerpted from 90 SECONDS TO A LIFE YOU LOVE Copyright © 2019 by Joan I. Rosenberg, PhD. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.

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