Anxiety, Depression, and Making Choices

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Having depression or anxiety makes decisions difficult, and finally making a decision can exacerbate symptoms—it may feel like being in that spot between the rock and the hard place.

Being familiar with that uncomfortable spot, it is necessary to frequently remind myself about the realities of decision-making, which differ from the imaginings of depressed and anxious thoughts.

Choice and Control Are Not Synonyms

There is rarely one right choice. We often try to magically view the consequences of our choices before we make a choice, as if hindsight were possible ahead of time. It helps to remember that with most decisions here is rarely one right option. The best we can do is look at the facts, tune into our intuition, talk to others involved, be aware of our feelings, and decide. The only wrong choice is one that violates our values or another’s rights.

Choices are not about control. It would be comforting to think we can control what happens later by making careful choices now. However, a focus on control just keeps us guessing about what to do instead of making a decision and moving forward. The best way to make a decision turn out the way we hope it will is to back it up action and follow-through.

Sometimes it’s best to pick what we like. Sometimes we have to choose between several favorable options which can be as confusing as it is pleasant. For instance, will you buy the Honda, the Ford, or the Subaru? If all three cars meet your price and quality criteria, it is okay to choose the one you like the most (e.g., color, style, detailing). We cannot always get what we like in life, but sometimes choosing what we like is our best remaining option.

We can either accept our choice, or what happens when we don’t choose. Experience helps us make good choices, yet we often get experience from making "bad" choices. This is part of everyone’s life. The only way to escape it is choosing to make no decisions and then accept whatever comes along.

The real choice is taking responsibility. “Life is the sum of all your choices,” wrote Albert Camus. Some people interpret this to mean they can be blamed for the state of their affairs. A more life affirming perspective is to realize that by making choices according to your values and without harming others, you are taking responsibility for your life. That is a sign of maturity and courage.

Deciding is not an anxiety antidote. It would be lovely if making choices eliminated anxiety, but for those prone to anxiety this may not be the case. However, some decisions bring us peace of heart or mind, and deciding according to our aspirations and values can eliminate remorse. Some decisions, because they position us outside our comfort zone, are bound to stir both anxiety and excitement.

A so-so choice can be better than no choice. A famous army general, Patton perhaps, said that working from a bad plan was better than not having a plan. When we do not make choices, life stands still until a wind blows through and alters the landscape. It is more satisfying to make a decision and put energy into making it work—even if the result is different from expected.

 
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