Decision Making Anxiety: Identify Your Values to Help Make Decisions and Manage Anxiety

The dreaded back and forth

Replaying possible outcomes, over and over and over, can keep you up at night and glued to your screen with anticipation. A student might to choose to skip school with her friends in order to avoid the anxiety of them talking about her poorly or not asking to hang out again, but instead spends the time with her friends feeling guilty and fearing consequences. This leads to added stress and a domino effect of poor decision making to come. Often, we are making decisions in the moment with feelings of unease and pressure, leaving us with regret and insecurities. One way to handle the pressure is to hope for the best and use any missteps as learning opportunities, just information for future choices. A more helpful alternative is to prepare for confident decision making, the first time around. Identifying and applying your values can be the most powerful tool on your belt for making decisions with less stress, less regret, and more confidence. 

Use values to manage the anxiety

Values are a big topic of conversation, but how do you know what values even are and which ones you actually follow? We talk about the idea of values in the media and in conversation. We hear about other's values and can often make decisions (in the moment) as to whether or not we agree. This is great for exposure, but we are not always informed and often make choices based on emotions, not our true values, making it all the more important to be thinking about and organizing them on your own. Family, friends, courage, wisdom, compassion, beauty, money, are just a few common values, but there are so many more that can help to build your moral compass. Taking time to consider the things you value the most and the things you value the least can help you build a strong sense-of-self and can be used later as tools for making difficult and every-day decisions. Here's how ...

Download a list of values and look through them carefully. Wisdom, curiosity, fame, fortune, family, spirituality are only just the tip of the iceberg. Take time to look up the ones you have not heard of or would like to know a little more about. Then choose 5 things you might value the most and 5 things you value the least. For extra support, see if you can rank them.

Write them down and keep them in an easy access location. Use this list throughout the day when faced with decisions big and small. Notice how the process changes. Do I have a second cup of coffee? Do I stay in traffic or take a different route? Do I volunteer for an extra assignment? Do I stay home sick or suck it up? Do I ask for help or try it on my own and risk mistakes, but gain knowledge? Having even a short list of values won’t make these decisions for you, but can give you support in-the-moment. Reading through them can provide more time to make the decision, reducing the feelings of pressure and the chances of regret later. Making decisions based on our values helps you stay true to yourself and increases your confidence. 

Take this common experience ... Sarah has one class left and the day seems never ending. As she walks to room 31, a group of friends approach her and complain about the long day. One person suggests that they all just skip and take much needed time to socialize and relax. Everyone agrees and then looks at Sarah. "Oh no," she thinks. "What do I do? If I say no, I'll miss out on everything and sit in class wishing I was anywhere else. What if there is a quiz? What if my parents find out and I get in trouble?" Sarah has worked on helpful decision making with her counselor and remembers to pull out her phone and look at her top 5 values. FRIENDS, FREEDOM, FAMILY, TECHNOLOGY, and STYLE. She decided to head to class and meet up with them later. Sarah feels confident about this decision and is able to focus in class and text her friends after the bell ... Ok, she texted them under her desk 5 minutes before the bell, but don't we all do this in some form?! She made this effective decision, to stay in class, based on her values. She knows that she could get in trouble and get grounded (freedom) without her phone (technology) making it harder to talk to them later (friends) and possibly disappoint her mom (family.) Way to go Sarah! This decision still provides Sarah with information for the future and she faces less consequences as a result.  

See for yourself

Sarah shows us that making decisions in-the-moment doesn't have to be scary, and can actually reduce anxiety long-term, if we are prepared and take opportunities to practice. If you are seeing a counselor, this is a great topic to bring up and explore in session! Save your nights for sleep, not worry. Give it a try now by downloading this Personal Values Card Sort

- Nikki Gorman, MA, LPCC