This might sound dramatic, but my first trip to Subway is definitely up there with the top five most stressful situations of my life.
I wouldn’t exactly have called myself a sandwich connoisseur beforehand but I thought I was pretty clued up about the choices there were available.
Upon entering the restaurant, however, I realised I was mistaken and I fell at the first hurdle.
ordering in subway is so stressful there's just too many questions and too many choices
— soph 🕊 (@sophiejperry) October 27, 2013
It went a little something like this:
‘What kind of bread would you like?’
‘We have 9-Grain Wheat, Italian, Hearty Italian, Herbs & Cheese, 9 Grain Multi-Seed Bread and Gluten Free’
With a queue rapidly forming behind me I eventually managed to point at one of the options displayed on the counter and things just got more stressful from there as I had to decide whether I wanted it toasted, what fillings I was in the mood for and whether I’d like to make it into a meal.
When I finally got my order I was too frazzled to enjoy whatever it was I’d ended up with.
I h8 subway bc there's too much choice & it stresses me out
— egg Ⓥ (@coaIchamber) August 15, 2014
The thing is, having a lot of things to choose from can sound good on paper. It could be a number of delicious-sounding meals in a restaurant, like in Subway, or a delightful array of potential holiday destinations.
However, the issue with having a lot of choice is that you have to narrow down your selection. You have to trust whatever you decide on will be the best for you, otherwise you could miss out on something great.
Of course, it’s not such a big deal when you’re at a local restaurant – though it felt like it to me at the time – because you can always go back and try something new. When it comes to more meaningful choices, however, it can be difficult to come back from a poor decision.
Writing for CNBC, ‘millennial therapist’ Tess Brigham explained the complaint she hears most from her patients, 90 per cent of who are between the ages of 23 and 38, is that they have too many choices and can’t decide what to do, with people worried about making the wrong choice.
There’s such pressure to get it right that having to make decisions can actually affect our mental health, according to a recent survey from heycar.
The study of 2,000 adults found 68 per cent of Brits have struggled with too much choice when making big life decisions. 47 per cent have suffered with anxiety as a result of being faced with a choice and 34 per cent have lost sleep over the issue, which has been dubbed ‘decidophobia’.
26 per cent of Brits have also experienced panic and, in some cases, a loss of appetite when having to make up their mind.
Bupa Health Clinics’ Medical Director, Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, told UNILAD stress can affect our judgement when it comes to making decisions.
Being a teen or a young adult and having to decide what you will be doing at 25yo is terrible. This amount of stress you have to handle.. But you can't handle it. It's just too much sometimes. Can I scream my stressed? Hahaha
— love yourself (@BodyPositivARMY) April 23, 2019
As we go through life, big decisions – such as buying a house, changing jobs and retirement – may cause us to feel stressed. High impact decisions can alter the course of our lives and it can feel like a lot of pressure to make sure we’re getting things right.
Stress can narrow our attention and impede our judgment, so, if we’re about to make a big decision and could do with some clarity of thought, stress may make it more difficult for us to choose which direction to go in.
Everyone reacts differently to stress – some people cope with it well, whereas others feel it can take a toll on their wellbeing. Stress can affect your mental wellbeing in several ways, including making you feel moody; aggressive; overwhelmed; depressed or anxious.
Decisions can come in all shapes and sizes and they’re something everyone has to deal with throughout life.
Not all of them are life-changing but even small choices can be a source of stress – I’m sure we’ve all seen the memes about girlfriends who can’t decide where they want to go for dinner, for example.
The formula my girlfriends & I use to decide on where to have dinner. pic.twitter.com/QlzAERDW1Y
— von (@girlfrclute) June 14, 2017
According to Forbes, having to make too many decisions in a day can cause you to experience exhaustion known as ‘decision fatigue’, a syndrome coined by social psychologist Dr. Roy F. Baumeiste.
One way to avoid decision fatigue is to eliminate some minor decisions you have to make every day, for example what you’re going to have for lunch. It might be a bit dull to have the same thing every day but getting into the habit would result in one less choice for you to make, leaving you with more energy to use on bigger decisions.
Former president Barack Obama adopted this technique, as in 2012 he told Vanity Fair life as the US leader required him to cut away the mundane, frustrating decisions.
You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make.
Another way to cut down on decision-making is to leave it up to fate, especially if you’re not too bothered about the outcome. The app Decide Now!, for example, allows users to put a options on to a wheel – then all you have to do is give it a spin and see where the arrow lands.
This sort of process can even help you figure out what you want through process of elimination, as you might be disappointed by the outcome and realise another option is more desirable.
Taking away simple choices can help but unfortunately not all decisions are so easily dismissed and as a result much of the anxiety comes not from the choice of A or B but from the impacts that choice will have.
There’s a lot of elements to making a decision; what course will your life take after making your selection? What are the short and long term impacts? Who else will your choice affect? Will it affect that person positively or negatively? Is it the right choice or the sensible choice?
Having to consider these knock-on effects can make the decision-maker become overwhelmed and as a result sometimes people can fall back on the easiest choice, or just avoid making any kind of judgment at all.
Lmao im so good at making bad decisions pic.twitter.com/B3bS8vJ6sc
— Chelsea Mallari 🦋 (@chellyace_) August 23, 2019
Heycar’s survey found people have missed out on some big opportunities as a result of decidophobia, with 31 per cent missing out on a new job, 22 per cent losing the chance of a profitable investment and 17 per cent missing out on their perfect partner.
68 per cent of those surveyed admitted less choice would make their day-to-day decision-making simpler, but if that were the case the human tendency to want what we can’t have would no doubt come in to play and we’d probably get frustrated at missing out on potential options.
It might seem like a lose-lose situation but Dr. Thiyagarajan offered some advice on how to make rational and well-informed decisions without panicking, pointing out the importance of managing time and taking care of yourself.
The episode of friends where Ross only lets the Magic 8 Ball make his decisions, that’s me with Twitter polls now🙂 🎱 pic.twitter.com/UpLizTyHzB
— lucy 🐾 (@Lucy_x_Cutter) April 10, 2018
Use your time sensibly to prioritise the most important elements of your decision. Remember that you can only control so much – don’t be afraid to ask others for help if you need it.
Regular exercise, a balanced diet, enough sleep, moderate caffeine and alcohol consumption, and avoiding smoking and illegal drugs can all help to clear your mind and make calmer decisions.
Dr. Thiyagarajan also recommended spending time with friends and family and enjoying hobbies as ways to take your mind off things causing you stress – whether it be a big decision, work or relationships.
me 🤝 making bad decisions at my own detriment because i live for the thrill
— la jefa (@itsmeyourfavx) September 1, 2019
The Medical Director continued:
If you can, try and identify what makes you feel stressed and attempt to change how you react to reduce the impact it has on you.
Using stress self-help books, online articles and podcasts, as well as speaking to friends and family, can help further your stress management techniques and better prepare you for times when you need to make big decisions in the future.
Very Well Mind urge people to get comfortable with the word ‘no’ to take the stress out of making decisions just to please others, as well as being confident a choice you’ve made is the right one.
Something you will eventually learn through all your ups and downs is that there are really no wrong decisions in life, just choices that will take your life down different paths. There are lessons to be learned from each. Eventually they all lead to where we are meant to be ❤ pic.twitter.com/rGts8S0aYI
— Alexis Ray (@Ray717Alexis) August 26, 2019
Hindsight’s 20/20 but there’s no point dwelling on something when you’ve already made your bed. Focus on the benefits rather the downsides and don’t beat yourself up about it.
Sometimes there’s just no getting out of making a decision but putting some of these techniques to use can help make the process less stressful. Taking time to make the right choice is a much better alternative than panicking and making yourself miserable.
Whether it’s deciding if you want a new job or simply picking between a Meatball Marinara or a Spicy Italian, don’t let decidophobia get the better of you!
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.