Although anxiety is an expected response to challenging situations, there are times when people can be so overwhelmed by anxiety that they find it hard to make decisions. Indecision and anxiety can be quite common. Anxiety can cause some such deep angst that making any choice seems impossible. Being faced with indecisiveness due to anxiety is a very personal experience, and it’s important to address it in a way that is more helpful than harmful.
When Choices Become Challenging
For those experiencing anxiety, indecision often revolves around being overwhelmed with current conditions and fear of a negative outcome. A research study report published in April 2015 in "Nature Neuroscience" explains that under experimental conditions, highly anxious people had a hard time making choices because they were uncertain about sudden changes in their environment. When faced with sudden changes, these people found it hard to take in new information. Because it was challenging for them to accept new information, that information could not be utilized to positively influence their decision-making. The sudden changes made them even more distressed.
Biology in Indecision and Anxiety
Certain areas of the brain help people make choices, even when they’re uncertain. The amygdala helps individuals process emotions, including fear and anxiety. The prefrontal cortex plays a major role in helping people balance their behaviors, thoughts and emotions, often tamping down exaggerated fear or anxiety. A review article published in July 2012 in "Society of Biological Psychiatry" explains that researchers believe these parts of the brain may function differently in anxious individuals 1. People who tend to be anxious often experience exaggerated fear or apprehension, and the dampening effects of other areas of the brain tend to be less active. This can lead to paralyzing indecision as fear and anxiety overwhelm the ability to weigh options and tolerate uncertainty about how the situation will ultimately turn out.
Individual Indecision and Anxiety
No two people experiencing anxiety and indecision will react to situations in the same way. They may not even consider the same situations to be anxiety-provoking. For some, anxiety might affect all of their decisions, and for others, it might only bear on a certain type of decision. For instance, someone who’s been in a bad car accident might find it hard to decide whether to drive to work due to haunting fear of possibly of getting into another accident. Another person who’s had the same experience may hop into the driver’s seat without hesitation. Neither person is right or wrong. The combination of indecision and anxiety is just a very personal experience, which is influenced by personality traits and experiences.
Moving Beyond Indecision and Anxiety
Because people experience anxiety differently, the manner in which they become comfortable with decision-making will also vary. Developing new coping mechanisms can be helpful, and one of the first steps is to accept that uncertainties come and go for everyone. But there are times when anxiety can be so paralyzing that adopting new coping mechanism without outside help is impossible. If you're facing necessary choices but the idea of making a decision is too much to bear, it might be best to reach out for help. Talk with your doctor or call a mental health crisis center to find a counselor in your area.
- Society of Biological Psychiatry: Anxiety and Decision-Making
- Nature Neuroscience: Anxious Individuals Have Difficulty Learning the Causal Statistics of Aversive Environments
- National Institute of Mental Health: Any Anxiety Disorder Among Adults
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th Edition; American Psychiatric Association
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development