How Not To Make An Emotional Decision When You’re Feeling Upset

When you’re upset and not thinking clearly, you’re more likely to say or do something that you’ll regret later. So how can you know if you’re making the right decision when emotions are running high?

By Ella Carroll-Smith3 min read
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Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

A heightened emotional state is not the ideal time to make an important decision, and that can be true whether you’re incredibly happy or incredibly sad. Have you ever been in a fantastic mood and agreed to a ton of weekend plans that you end up regretting come Friday night? Conversely, maybe you’re in a terrible mood all week and rebuff all of your friends, only to find yourself lonely over the weekend and wishing you’d agreed to hang out with someone. 

These are small and relatively insignificant examples, but the same idea is true regardless of the specific circumstances or gravitas of a situation. When you’re overly emotional, your judgment is clouded, and it will be much harder to consider the consequences of your actions and how you’ll ultimately feel about the decision later on. Here’s how to work through those emotions so you don’t end up doing something you regret.

Recognize That You’re Emotional

The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing that there’s a problem in the first place. When you’re feeling emotional and can sense yourself edging toward irrationality, take a step back for a moment and simply acknowledge it. Try to discern if the emotion you’re feeling is a valid one that’s giving you accurate information about how you really feel, or if you’re feeling triggered by something else. 

Maybe you see an old picture from college, and suddenly you really want to send a sappy text to your ex-boyfriend. Take a beat first and consider the root cause of that urge. Are you feeling this way because you’re just a little nostalgic, or do you genuinely want to get in touch with him? Try to discern whether the emotion is valid and rational, or if it’s only a fleeting desire. 

Consider whether your emotion is valid and rational, or if it’s simply a fleeting desire. 

Think About the Future You

When you’re emotional, you’re only thinking about how you feel in the current moment. Instead of thinking about how you feel right now, think about how you’ll feel about this decision in the future. Will future you be happy that you decided to order $500 worth of shoes from DSW because you were influenced by an online ad or a last-minute “sale”? Or will future you regret that you’re now out the $500? 

Considering how you’ll feel about a decision in the future will help take you out of your current headspace and think about the consequences of your actions. Don’t catastrophize, but consider the possible consequences of your decision and how you’ll feel about them. Can you live with those consequences, or will you come to regret them? 

Get to the Root of the Problem

If you’re getting overly worked up and anxious about a situation that shouldn’t be causing you this much stress, then there’s probably something deeper going on than a surface-level decision. Is it the decision itself that's worrying you, or is your anxiety stemming from a bigger issue? If you can, try to work on identifying and resolving the deeper issue first. 

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.” – Victor E. Frankl

Remove Yourself From the Situation

It can be easy to get caught in a spiral of anxiety or self-doubt when emotions are heightened. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to simply remove yourself from the situation entirely. Go for a walk, listen to some music, journal – just do something that will take your mind off the issue at hand. 

Whenever I’m feeling particularly anxious about a decision, I think about this quote from Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, and author Victor E. Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

Utilize that space between stimulus and response, then come back when you have a clear head and can think more rationally about your decision. Maybe that’s an hour later, or maybe it’s longer. Take as much time as you need (or as you possibly can) in order to get to a better mental state, where you can trust yourself more. 

Seek Outside Counsel

No matter how self-sufficient you might be, sometimes you still need to ask for help. This is especially true if the decision you’re wrestling with is an important one, such as whether to quit your job or move to a different city. Making a pro and con list is all well and good, but sometimes what you really need is to confide in and seek advice from someone you trust. 

Lean on your social circle. Maybe it’s a family member or a close friend or your husband or boyfriend. Go to someone you respect, who you know has your best interests in mind. Make sure it’s someone who doesn’t have any stake in your decision so they can help you make a more objective choice. When you talk to them, be honest and explain exactly what it is you’re struggling with. Their fresh perspective might be exactly what you need to see the situation in a different light. 

Closing Thoughts

No matter how upset or anxious you’re feeling, remember that this too shall pass. Emotions are temporary, even if they feel all-consuming right now. Don’t make rash or impulsive decisions when emotions are running high. Instead, take some time away and try to clear your head first. Future you will be glad you did!

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