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Why Making Decisions When Emotional is Hard

Why Making Decisions When Emotional is So Hard

Hello beautiful humans!!!

So… first off, I wanna take a moment and apologize for the delay in sending this newsletter. The truth is life kinda punched me in the face, kicked me while I was down and then rolled me in mud. I am never a glass-half-empty kinda gal… but jeez Louise has the last 6 weeks been a doozy. I share that with you as I am assuming many of you might be able to relate. Most of us have had times in our lives that are just straight up hard, where it is difficult to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and emotional fatigue seems never-ending.

What makes those rough times even more difficult is that often when we are in crisis (or worse, multiple crises), we have to make decisions; and I do not know about you, but when I am down in the dumps, facing anxiety or (worse) in blind panic or devastation, making those decisions feels impossible.

There are a few reasons for this that I want to share.

So... the topic for this week's installment is:

Why is it so hard to be decisive when the goin’ gets tough?

(1) The part of our brain that is responsible for decision making is called the prefrontal cortex. On a daily basis, it connects us to critical thinking, logic and information processing. The part of brain that is responsible for emotions is called the limbic system. When we are under profound levels of stress, our limbic system goes into overdrive. That isn’t to say that the prefrontal cortex is offline, but it is to say that it is not necessarily in the driver’s seat. When we are emotionally triggered, our limbic systems sends messages to the rest of our body that we are in trouble. Blood pressure can rise. Breath can become labored. Body temperature increases. Concentration becomes harder to access. Distractability and loss of focus heightens. These are not ideal conditions to make important (or even any) decisions.

(2) During periods of distress, it is common to have a lot of trouble processing new information. Our brains are already hardwired to look for shortcuts and automations and this is only exacerbated when under pressure. When we are emotional, we tend to rely on old patterns, thoughts, assumptions and rules of thumb. We may not have the resources to critically challenge thoughts in the way we would if we were not under stress.

Put differently: when we are enduring stressful times, our brain may make automatic decisions without processing all of the information available and without properly consulting with the brain’s logic center.

So… what the hell do I do?

Just make bad (or no) decisions every time I am having a crisis?

No… of course not.

The advice I have in managing decisions inside of crisis echos what I would tell someone about emotional regulation in general.

(1) Get grounded: seriously... like... REALLY grounded. "Getting grounded" might mean something different to you than it does to me, but lean in full throttle to all things that center you. Meditate. Deep breathe. Practice mindfulness. Take a shower to regulate temperate. Journal. The more grounded you become, the more your limbic system will quiet and allow space for other parts of your brain to become active.

(2) Release those emotions. Screaming, punching a pillow, going for a jog, talking to friends, finding support, movement... wont change the circumstances, but those things will help you better relate to the circumstances. When emotions are released, the limbic system can deactivate and invite in clarity and logic, which is exactly what we need when we are being asked to decide things.

You might be sick of this advice. ("Seriously, Allison is every newsletter going to be about mindfulness and grounding? Spoiler alert: at least in part, yes).

I get it... the message seems generic and cliche... but I am not creating the wheel. These ideas are backed by mindfulness experts, gurus, spiritual leaders, neuroscientists, and psychologists alike.

In conclusion, if you are having a sucky time and finding yourself frustrated with your ability to make decisions, give yourself some slack.

Relax. Release. Regroup. Recharge. Refocus.

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