These are the types of questions that Potomac parents Elaine and Brett Madden ask themselves almost daily. In the age of the coronavirus pandemic and omicron variant, the Maddens, like many others, face making decisions that have the potential to cause a major chain of events. This cycle often leads to stress that impacts one’s overall health and wellbeing.
“It’s like living with a low grade anxiety that is subtle, but builds up if we’re not in tune with our body,” said Elaine Madden, a licensed therapist who specializes in stress management. “Almost 99% of the clients I’m seeing are dealing with anxiety around making decisions that are related to COVID. If they make the wrong decision, will they catch the disease or spread it to others? Will their job be affected by COVID? Should they begin looking for a new job? With the spike in new cases, there’s been a new wave of uncertainty.”
Madden points to a recent study by the American Psychological Association, which showed that daily tasks and decision-making have become more difficult during the pandemic, particularly for parents.
“I’ve been telling my patients to take a step back, breathe and really think through the ramifications of each decision and write them down,” she said. “This can work for decisions that range from small things like what to pack in your kids’ lunches, to larger ones like whether to plan a vacation.”
“Almost 99% of the clients I’m seeing are dealing with anxiety around making decisions that are related to COVID.”
— Elaine Madden
For larger decisions, like a career or job change, Madden suggests enlisting the help of a few trusted advisors who can offer objective guidance.
“You need someone who has experience dealing with your issues, but won’t be impacted by them,” she said. “For example, a college student who is deciding whether or not to study abroad might get the opinion of an older adult who has actually spent a semester abroad rather than, or in addition to, a parent who would be paying for that semester. If you’re deciding to change jobs, someone with a financial stake in your decision should not be the only person offering an opinion. But just know that these opinions are just advice. The final decision should be made jointly with those closest to you.”
Some decisions are minor, but can feel monumental. “Many of us are on decision overload, so we start shutting down, and things like deciding what to wear or what to eat can feel paralyzing,” said Great Falls psychologist Rachel Cohen. “Try planning ahead during a time when you’re feeling relaxed. For example, my husband and I gather our kids on Saturday and we decide on a menu for the week for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. We create a chart and pre-make as much of those meals as we can. The same goes for our clothes for the week.”
“Know your limits and boundaries and have a backup plan,” said Alexandria-based therapist Lee Tripp, MSW. “If going into the office is mandatory for you, but your child has to quarantine and miss school unexpectedly, what is your childcare plan? At what point will you decide to have your child tested for COVID? When you hear snuffles? When they have a persistent cough? Having these guidelines in place can cut down on the number of last minute decisions.”
“Try not to get stuck on over-analyzing,” added Cohen. “At the end of the day, we just need to make a decision, take a chance and stop procrastinating.”