How to Move Beyond Anxiety to Make Major Decisions

studentImagine you have just been offered a promotion at work. This is great news, right? You’ll be making more money, have more status and prestige within your industry, and have a whole team of people working under you.

Of course, you’ll have to relocate to a new state, pulling your partner and children from their work and schools, and you’ll all be leaving a community where you have a strong support system of family and friends. Many people who find themselves in such a position become filled with a paralyzing level of anxiety that renders them unable to make a decision. It is certainly understandable—lots of decisions are tough to make, and those that have significant implications for your career, living situation, and family are among the toughest. So what can you do?

When people are anxious about a decision, they often try desperately to escape that anxiety. They will fill their days to the brim with distractions—drinking, shopping, exercise, work, or household projects—to avoid it. While it’s natural to avoid discomfort, the elements of your anxiety may actually help you make a decision.

It can be useful to sit with your anxiety and let it talk to you. Feel the anxiety and allow the troubling thoughts and feelings to come to the surface. If you are an introvert and want to process this on your own, start writing. If you are more extroverted, talk it through with someone you trust. Either way, acknowledging what is underneath the anxiety is necessary.

Let’s unpack the potential concerns underlying the anxiety in scenario described above. There are many reasons that you might feel anxious about taking a promotion that involves relocation: fear of failing in the new position, worries about your family’s potential resentments as they adjust to the transition, concern over finding adequate schools, and trepidation regarding your own adjustment to the simultaneous change in job and community. These are all very natural fears and concerns. Acknowledging what lies beneath the anxiety, and further acknowledging that it is all quite normal, will likely bring some relief: taking the mystery out of anxiety is a big first step to controlling it.

With some of the anxiety alleviated, it is time to create a decision-making plan. First, you should set a deadline for when the decision must be made. Then go back to the fears and concerns you identified when exploring your anxiety and create a game plan for investigating each issue. Since this particular decision directly  impacts the lives of all members of the family, engage them in this process. Ask them to investigate the schools, community resources, and activities available in the area where the new job would take you. If the children are teenagers, they can do this on their own; if they are younger, they will need to be guided through the process. In addition to investigating the community with your partner and children, you should also learn more about the new job. Review the new and challenging aspects of the position and make sure they are aligned with your core competencies. If you identify some weak spots in your training or skills, work to identify resources—like classes, books, or coaches—that will help you get up to speed.

Finally, schedule a family meeting in advance of your decision deadline and have everyone present the information they have found.  Segue into an open discussion about everyone’s thoughts and feelings around this potential change.  Then, sit down with your partner and discuss the pros and cons of each side of the decision, based on all of the information you have collected, and work together to make the best decision for your family.

Whether you are part of a couple, part of a family, or single, life is full of decisions—some big and some small.  For some, all decisions are fraught with anxiety, while others make decisions with remarkable ease.  Most, however, fall somewhere in between and struggle most with major life decisions around career, family, relationships, and finances.  Next time you find yourself struggling to make a decision, try following the steps described in this article—allow your anxiety to help you identify the fears and concerns around the decision, set a deadline, create a game plan for investigating those fears and concerns, and then make the best decision you can.

© Copyright 2011 by By Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Andrew

    July 29th, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    I never thought about these underlying reasons for anxiety! Yes, I’ve been anxious about many things as it is with anybody else. But I didn’t think of why the anxiety happens in the first place. This way of tackling it is a whole new one for me. It’ll hopefully help me takle my future anxieties better, thanks.

  • Noelle

    July 29th, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    When faced with something like this, like say if you got a promotion at work and you now have to be the one in charge, then just remember that someone put you in this position for a reason. Obviously there is someone there who trusts you and has faith and confidence in you. Why not take that on yourself and try acting that way for a change? A good dose of confidence is helpful for anyone!

  • Adam S

    July 30th, 2011 at 4:41 AM

    I call it procrastination. I think this is what I do to avoid making that big decision and hoping therefore someone else will make it for me. Through this technique I am able to avoid failing in my decision making. The problem is this technique makes it appear that I am not working on the decision but everything else around the decision. I probably limits me in the job opportunities that I am offered and it keeps me from further promotions.

  • harry

    July 30th, 2011 at 8:09 AM

    anxiety always seems to defeat me and I mess things up quite easily due to the same.its like Im doing something and doing it well but as soon as I get anxious about the thing or if there is something important related to what Im doing I get anxious and end up messing it up and the end result being imperfect.

    Dont know what I should do to get over this shakiness of mine that anxiety gives me.

  • emmaline

    July 30th, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    2day is THE day to stop 2nd guessing ur self and make a difference, make a change!
    If u feel it u can make it happen!
    Be true 2 u and the rest is sure 2 come!


    July 30th, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    @harry:I hear u! its like this for me too. one example-I play football extremely well in school but when it comes to a big event against some visiting school or something like that I dont even perform to half my potential. and this is coming straight from my coach’s mouth.

    I am thinking of speaking to him about it and getting some specific tips for my game.

  • FrOsTbIte

    July 31st, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    Anxiety comes when there is doubt and lack of confidence.If you’re thoroughly confident then there is not much room for anxiety.

    ve also observed that anxiety may creep in when youre doing things in a hurry and if there s no planning involved. there-I just told you how to avoid anxiety using my self-tested tips. go on ppl!

  • Brad

    July 31st, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    Anxiety is a driver behind underperforming in so many different areas of your life. Anxiety can definitely lead to a decrease in performance in active endeavors. It leads to taking longer in your responses and even your physical direction. I ride road bikes and when I am anxious on a descent it slows me down tremendously. Friends that I can normally toast seem to just leave me on the side of the hill.

  • Mildred

    August 1st, 2011 at 4:33 AM

    For someone like me no matter how much I try to tell myself not to sweat the details that is just who I am. I am anxious and nervous making small decisons so making big ones is extremely nerve wracking for me!

  • susanna

    August 1st, 2011 at 6:58 AM

    Anxiety not only makes me something of an underachiever but also makes me feel different and lack in confidence even physically.I start to sweat and shiver when I’m anxious.This is something I’ve hidden from everybody but I need to deal with this.

  • rebecca

    February 4th, 2015 at 4:21 AM

    I do understand, Susanna, i have this myself. With baby steps, we can do stuff xx

  • Russ Watts

    August 2nd, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    One thing I used to do was flip a coin if I had to make a difficult decision. Whatever side I wanted it to land on at that moment, that would be what I’d pick, regardless of what the coin said since that’s the choice I wanted to make deep down.

  • Amelia Hinds

    August 2nd, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    Unless it was a substantial increase in my salary rate and they covered my relocation expenses, I wouldn’t even touch such an offer with a ten foot barge pole. It’s too expensive and risky to move based on my boss’s whims and I can probably get a better offer elsewhere locally if he thinks I’m that good.

    Sometimes the easiest decision to make is to say no.

  • Cameron Moffatt

    August 2nd, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    Assuming an average sized family, you’ll be trying to get at least three people with established lifestyles to move to a different state. This can be very disruptive if it’s done at times when major events like exams are coming up for teens. You need to make sure you’re doing it for the whole family’s benefit and not just to satisfy your own desires.

  • Caleb Workman

    August 7th, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    This is an age where we can communicate with anyone in any country with an internet connection, yet we’re still having to pull people from different states when a new job opens up.

    That tells me companies don’t take full advantage of tools like web conferencing and remote management options. If they did they would realize they are most cost effective to implement than uprooting whole families and all the costs that go with that for relocation etc. Why is that?

  • Graham Arnold

    August 7th, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    @Caleb-Because there are who people suck at using technology unlike you. You could tell a whole roomful of adults to put the mouse at the top of the screen and at least one would place it on top of the monitor itself.

    It’s quite amazing how varied workforces can be at all levels in that respect. I know many managers that wouldn’t have a clue what to do apart from opening email online but are excellent at their jobs. Not all jobs are suited to the internet anyway.

  • Claire Harrogate

    August 9th, 2011 at 10:30 PM

    It’s a big risk to take opportunities like that since the job can be overwhelming or simply impossible for you to do. Result, you’re in another state with a job you can’t do and probably looking at a demotion or firing.

    Having to make a decision like that would paralyze me.

  • Armando K.

    August 11th, 2011 at 5:13 PM

    If it helps, Claire, think about this: they wouldn’t have offered you it and been willing to pay relocation expenses if they didn’t have complete confidence you could fulfill your new role. Companies don’t ever spend money they don’t need to on procuring staff unless they are sure of their candidate choice.

    Remember that if an opportunity ever comes up. Paralysis stunts adventure.

  • Mary

    April 11th, 2016 at 9:07 AM

    People need to understand what anxiety is. It’s a way for avoiding your feelings and not trusting yourself or feeling overwhelmed by something new. I highly recommend going to psychotherapy if you are an anxious person so that someone can help your learn how to live with it and make smart decisions without being rash or pressured by your own anxiety. Anxiety is a bully that lives in your mind. It takes times, therapy and practice.

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