5 Brain-Informed Tips for Pandemic Decision Making

Jennifer A. King
5 min readJul 24, 2020

Decision Fatigue is real. And it’s making everything harder.

I am a chronically indecisive person. As a teenager in a middle-class community, I watched friends open college acceptance letters and immediately declare where they’d be attending. Me? My parents had to lock me in the house on the day of the commitment deadline, telling me I couldn’t leave until I decided on a school. Highly privileged, easy, breezy teenage me just crumbled under that “pressure” (picture those as air quotes accompanied by an eyeroll).

Fast forward to 2020. What used to feel small now looms large, and what was already large feels insurmountable. Can I go to a restaurant? Can our kids have their friends over? Is traveling safe? How about beaches, pools, or parks? Many of us are grappling with whether or not to send children back to school in the fall, what to do to make ends meet after lost or reduced employment, and how to grieve losses incurred over the past several months, all while navigating our own stress and the stress of our loved ones and communities.

Two intertwined public health pandemics — one being COVID-19 and the other being the ongoing assault on Black livelihood — can have even the most confidently decisive feeling exhausted, confused, and highly dysregulated. With COVID, it’s been months, with white supremacy, hundreds of years; both resulting in a collective ever-ringing stress response alarm.

An overview of the stress response system and the ‘state-dependent’ functioning of our brains can be found here, inspired by the work of Dr. Bruce Perry and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics. For our purposes, let’s recall that all parts of the brain have specific jobs or functions, and their ability to do those jobs depends on our overall internal state. If we are regulated — calm and collected, satiated and rested — we are able to access the ‘thinking’ parts of the brain, where executive functioning, reasoning, planning, and problem solving reside. But, if we are dysregulated, if our stress response alarm is ringing, the ‘thinking’ brain goes off line and we are left in survival mode.

So, decision making under stress. This is where we are, and where we really don’t want to be. The internet says adults make approximately 35,000 semi conscious…

Jennifer A. King

Mother. Social Work Educator. Consultant. Writer. Unschooler. Trauma-Informed. @drjennyking