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    Executive Burnout, Stress & Anxiety

    The luxury of choice: how daily decision fatigue can lead to burnout

    Published on March 24, 2023

    Coffee or tea? Iced or hot? Soy or oat? In the 21st century, we have the luxury of choice.

    The possibilities are endless, from the big decisions, such as which career to pursue, to the small ones, like what to watch on TV at night.

    However, each decision we make requires some mental effort, and our capacity for making decisions is not unlimited. Just like a muscle that gets tired after use, our brain’s ability to make decisions can become fatigued after extended periods of use.

    This can lead to a condition called ‘decision fatigue’.

    What is decision fatigue?

    We may not realise it, but much of the stress we experience can come from the sheer number of decisions we have to make on a daily basis.

    In the workplace, decision-making is a constant requirement. Every email we send, every meeting we attend, and every task we complete involves some form of decision-making.

    Decision fatigue, meanwhile, can lead to a state of mental exhaustion that makes it difficult to function effectively. When your capacity for decision-making is exhausted, you become more prone to making mistakes and impulsive choices. You may even start to procrastinate or avoid making important decisions altogether. This can be detrimental not only to your daily performance but also to your career in the long run.

    This phenomenon is especially prevalent among individuals in high-pressure jobs, whose decisions can have significant repercussions for a great number of people.

    But decision fatigue isn’t only damaging in the workplace. 

    We make thousands of decisions daily, from what to wear in the morning to what to eat for dinner at night. So, when you’re already experiencing a lot of stress at work, you may be unable to cope with the additional burden of decision-making in the time you spend with your loved ones.

    Decision fatigue might lead you to forget your firstborn’s birthday or become irritable with your partner, for example. And this can put a strain on your relationships.

    Decision fatigue and burnout

    Over time, the constant stress of decision fatigue at work and home can be mentally exhausting, and eventually, it can lead to burnout.

    ‘Burnout’ is when you reach a state of complete physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It’s a natural, physiological response to having to withstand stress continually over a prolonged period of time.

    Burnout is often described as feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to keep up with life’s constant demands.

    It may also manifest as feeling helpless, trapped or defeated; a cynical or negative outlook; self-doubt; taking longer than usual to get things done; or feeling detached or alone in the world.

    It is recognised by the World Health Organization as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ and is increasingly common in the workplace. It can lead to many physical and mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and chronic illness.

    High-level professionals are much more prone to burnout, especially those who work in high-stakes industries such as business, finance and medicine.

    how daily decision fatigue can lead to burnout

    How to avoid decision fatigue and burnout

    If you notice signs of decision fatigue or burnout in yourself or a colleague, it’s essential to take steps to address them before they become more severe.

    By learning healthy coping strategies, you can help prevent burnout and maintain your ability to make good decisions at work and at home.

    These are some effective coping strategies you can use to reduce decision fatigue in your daily life:

    1) Limit how many decisions you have to make

    One way to combat decision fatigue is to limit the number of decisions you have to make. For example, simple things like wearing the same outfit to work or eating the same thing for lunch every day can make a big difference.

    These might sound small (and even boring), but they will eliminate some of the choices you have to make each day. 

    By limiting the number of decisions you have to make in your daily life, you can conserve mental energy and avoid decision fatigue.

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    2) Prioritise the most important decisions 

    Another way to combat decision fatigue is to prioritise the most critical decisions. Our brain is less fatigued in the morning, so tackling difficult or urgent matters earlier in the day is best.

    By prioritising the most important decisions, you can focus your mental energy where it is most needed and avoid decision fatigue.

    3) Take regular breaks

    The importance of strengthening your brain

    Taking breaks throughout the day is also essential to recharge your mental batteries. This might mean taking a quick walk outside, practising mindfulness for five minutes at lunchtime, or doing a few minutes of deep breathing exercises.

    Taking breaks and giving your brain a chance to rest helps maintain your ability to make good decisions when it matters most.

    4) Reduce your social media use

    Some people respond to stress by avoiding it, turning to easy distractions such as social media.

    However, social media can actually contribute to your decision fatigue. This is because it saps our mental energy and can reduce cognitive capacity and focus.

    It can, therefore, be helpful to reduce your consumption by setting time limits per app on all your devices so that you’re more aware of how much time you spend on social media.

    5) Exercise regularly

    Exercise is proven to reduce stress by lowering the body’s adrenaline and cortisol levels and producing endorphins – the so-called ‘happy hormones’.

    You can better cope with stress caused by decision fatigue by developing a regular fitness routine which not only boosts your mood, concentration and alertness but also improves your cardiovascular and overall physical health. 

    6) Seek professional help

    When to contact a mental health professional or doctor

    The best way to keep decision fatigue at bay and reduce your likelihood of experiencing burnout is to identify your most damaging behaviour patterns and work on changing them long-term. 

    With targeted and professional help, you can get to the root of the issues affecting you. Trained medical professionals, including therapists and dieticians, can help you replace the unhealthy coping mechanisms that led you towards burnout with healthier ones.

    Executive Wellness at White River Manor

    If your decision-making is compromised and decision fatigue is leading you down the path to burnout, White River Manor’s Wellness and Executive Burnout Program could be just what you need to rediscover your former self.

    To recover fully from burnout, a change of environment is essential. Our luxury rehab centre in the heart of South Africa provides the perfect setting to rest and recharge.

    We offer intensive 7, 10, 14, and 21-day programs, completely tailored to the unique needs of high-level executives. They pair an individualised combination of therapeutic practices with a complete recharge of the batteries in incomparable surroundings.

    Through a combination of talking therapies and consultations with dieticians and personal trainers, we can effectively treat the root causes of your burnout, and you’ll leave with your energy restored, ready to face your daily challenges with a fresh outlook.

    Does this sound like something you need?

    Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team for more information.

    About Giles Fourie

    Giles Fourie is the director and co-founder of White River Manor. He is dedicated to providing the best care for clients seeking recovery from substance abuse, anxiety, depression, or co-occurring disorders.