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Women and Anxiety: Are Less Choices Better for Mental Health?

March 9, 2023

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), from the time a girl enters puberty until she is about 50, she is twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder than a man.

Biology plays a significant role in this phenomenon, including differences in brain chemistry, as well as hormone fluctuations. But what about external factors that contribute to women and anxiety?

Research by the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that decision fatigue plays a key role in regard to women and anxiety. Decision fatigue is the sheer mental exhaustion we experience when making too many decisions day after day.

Whether those decisions are simple or more complex, the process depletes limited physical, mental, and emotional resources that our bodies need to self-regulate. This can lead to stress, anxiety, and even depression.

How do we combat this mental overload? We can’t just avoid making decisions entirely. However, science suggests that our anxiety is linked to the number of choices we have when making a decision.

Choice Anxiety

Have you ever felt stressed out by trying to choose the best of those 31 ice cream flavors? What about when selecting where to travel for vacation? If you go clothes shopping, do you leave the store with everything, or nothing at all?

anxiety thoughtsChoice anxiety occurs when the process of making a decision, or inability to make one, causes extreme fear or distress. For many, choice anxiety is paralyzing. This could be for worry of making a bad decision, missing out on a better option, or disappointing a loved one.

How do you know if you struggle with choice anxiety? Here are some clues:

  • You may contemplate a decision, but are too afraid to explore the options.
  • You catastrophize possible outcomes of each potential choice.
  • Your decisions are driven by guilt, judgment by others, or unreasonable fear.
  • You find yourself second-guessing decisions to the point of making yourself sick.
  • You torture yourself trying to make the “perfect” choice.

Choice and Perfectionism

Is there such thing as a perfect choice? A perfectionist would argue yes. But arriving at that choice can be grueling.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center confirms a relationship between anxiety and perfectionism. Although we all strive to live life to the best of our ability, perfectionism can become “an outsized desire to avoid mistakes, errors, and failures.”

For those with perfectionism anxiety, the stakes of decision-making are exceptionally high. Women and perfectionism is particularly difficult to navigate, as the APA says women struggle with self-esteem more than men, and perfectionists tend to view their successes or failures as a matter of self-worth.

For those with perfectionism anxiety, the stakes of decision-making are exceptionally high.

This leaves little room, in their mind, for perceived error. Furthermore, having more options to choose from only exacerbates the problem.

Less Is More

A recent article from Harvard Health Publishing addressed the idea that more does not equal better. It concedes that having options can improve your happiness, but only up to a certain point. Ultimately, the more options you have, the more likely you are to regret your choice, as more choices mean more pressure to make the “right” choice.

One solution Harvard suggests is to participate in activities like retreats that purposely limit your choices. It can be very freeing to get a break from deciding your day’s agenda or meals. The refresh can also help you to feel more focused and content with the other decisions you do make.

Helpful Hints for Reducing Anxiety

If you are someone who battles choice anxiety, perfectionism anxiety, or both, here are some other helpful ideas to minimize your stress:

  • Streamline Your Choices

Simplify the process by allowing yourself a set number of options. Remember that less is more, and you will experience higher overall satisfaction long-term.

  • Delegate Decisions

Are there specific decisions that others can make in your place? If so, find relief by delegating those to someone you trust.

  • Make Big Decisions in the Morning

Prioritize the most important decisions for first thing in the morning when your mind is fresh and your “tank is full.”

  • Establish Routines

Create routines that help eliminate the last-minute guess work. Meal plan for the week, schedule days to exercise, or lay out clothes the night before.

  • Consider the Trade-Off

Is the anxiety of making the perfect choice worth sacrificing your mental and emotional health or well-being?

At Willow House at The Meadows, we provide specialized treatment for a wide range of issues, including helping women address anxiety and perfectionism, as well as love addiction, sexual compulsion, unhealthy relationship patterns, sexual trauma, toxic relationships, and co-occurring mental health and substance abuse issues. To find out more, contact us today. We are eager to help.