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How to Make the Best Possible Decision Under Stress

Updated: Dec 22, 2023


A man standing next to a broken-down car, looking puzzled, while a parachute brings down supplies or food to provide assistance.

Stressful situations can often cloud our judgment, making it difficult to make the best decisions. However, with the right strategies and techniques, we can learn to make effective decisions even under high pressure. This article will provide you with practical tips and strategies for mastering decision-making in stressful situations.



Take a Deep Breath and Calm Down for a Second


One of the simplest yet most effective techniques for managing stress is deep breathing. Deep, slow breaths can help to calm the body's stress response and allow for clearer thinking. When stressed, your breathing may become rapid and shallow. Take a moment to focus on your breath. Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your lungs completely, and then exhale. By doing this you can bring calm to yourself in stressful situations. Don't underestimate the power of deep breath. If you doubt, do one deep inhale and exhale right now. Do you feel the difference? If you need to make a decision under stress, take a deep breath first, this helps you think more clearly.



Avoid Making Decisions in a Spot If Possible


While it's sometimes necessary to make quick decisions under pressure, if there's an opportunity to delay the decision, it can often lead to better outcomes. This is because stress can skew our perception of risks and benefits, leading us to make decisions that we might not make under calmer circumstances.


If you can, try to delay decision-making until you've had a chance to calm down and think things through. If this isn't possible, the next sections will provide strategies for making the best possible decisions in the heat of the moment.



Simplifying Choices


Perhaps your brain might not function as well as usual in the panic, making it difficult to weigh complex options and make rational decisions. In that case, narrow down your decision-making factors and focus on the most critical ones - in many cases, this will be a risk assessment. Consider the potential consequences of each decision and choose the safest option.


You only take risks for success when your mind is clear. High levels of confusion and stress are not conducive to making successful decisions. Poor decision-makers may not accurately assess risks, leading to overly optimistic or overly cautious choices.



Seeking Outside Perspectives


Sometimes, when we're under stress, we can get stuck in our own perspective and overlook potential solutions. Don't hesitate to seek advice from others. It can provide a fresh perspective from a different angle and help us to see options we might have missed.


However, this strategy only works when it's not an extremely time-sensitive situation. If you need to make a quick decision, you might not have time to seek others' advice.



Learning from Experience


Past experiences can be a valuable guide when making decisions under stress. Reflect on similar situations you've been in before. What worked? What didn't? Use these insights to inform your decision-making process.



Examples of Making Decisions Under Stress: Decision-Making in a Crisis


Let's consider a real-world example of decision-making under stress: a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a hurricane. In this extremely time-sensitive and dangerous situation, quick and effective decision-making is crucial.


Here are some strategies you could apply in such a situation:


  1. Bring Calm: First and foremost, Don't freak out, try to remain calm. Panic won't help and can hinder effective decision-making. Take a deep breath to center yourself.

  2. Immediate Actions: Your first priority should be to take immediate action. In the case of a natural disaster, this will usually mean evacuating to a safe area as quickly as possible.

  3. Simplify Options: During a crisis, it's essential to simplify your options as much as possible, such as what you need to bring with you.

  4. Contacting Family: If you can't reach your family, assess the situation. Consider whether it's safe to go looking for them or if they may have already evacuated to a safe place. While it's normal to want to take risks to find your loved ones, weigh the potential dangers against the likelihood that they are already safe but unable to contact you for several reasons.

  5. Prioritize Safety: Always prioritize safety. If it's too dangerous to take certain actions (such as going outside to look for family members), you need to prioritize your own safety. Imagine the impact on your loved ones if you put your life at risk and something were to happen to you.

  6. Manage Anxiety: It's natural to feel anxious and scared in a crisis. However, it's important to manage these feelings as best you can and not let them influence your decision-making process.

  7. The Worst-Case Scenario Analysis: Finally, Consider using the worst-case scenario analysis, especially when you're tempted to take risky actions. This involves analyzing the risks and potential outcomes to consider if reasonable to take action.




Conclusion

Making decisions under stress is a challenging but crucial skill. By understanding how stress affects our bodies and minds and applying effective strategies, we can navigate high-pressure situations with greater success. However, the most important strategy is to remain calm. Remember that losing your temper can lead to poor decisions. While it's not easy to stay calm in a stressful situation, taking a deep breath to release tension can help you think more clearly and make better choices.

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