Problems are not something that we often want to deal with. They tend to bother us at the most inconvenient times while shouting “do something”. One of the difficulties is that the answer to solving a problem is not always quite so clear. Problems can be complex and complicated. There may be uncertainty about the outcome, especially in major recurring problems such as ones that occur in relationships, or in settings that you cannot avoid such as work, school, or home. The feelings that problems bring can be overwhelming—exasperation, worry, fear, sadness, anger, and frustration to name a few.
I’d like to share three strategies for coping with overwhelming problems which include skills for solving problems, regulating emotions, and managing distress.
- Use Problem-Solving Skills
This strategy involves first defining the problem. Then identify and explore possible solutions, pick one to try, and reflect on the outcome. This may seem like a fairly straightforward process (for simple problems) but people are complex and so are many of the decisions. Another factor is that there are often too many choices. From everyday decisions such as picking out a box of cereal at the grocery store, to major purchases such as a new vehicle or home. When it comes to making decisions that impact your future self, there are a lot of factors to consider. Problem-solving therapy can help provide tools to assist with the problem-solving process.
- Use Emotional Regulation Skills.
While this is not a solution to solving the problem, emotion regulation skills can help create some space to pause between your feeling and reaction. By doing so, you are regulating your response to the problem to one with more emotional control. This also helps by creating space to reflect on the things that you want, love, and value.
Some activities that a therapist can help with include identifying emotions that come up in recurring problems, noticing, and naming feelings and sensations in the body and any thoughts associated. They can then assist with specific tools to help regulate the emotion and support you with strategies that help allow greater acceptance and adaptability while reminding you to show some compassion towards yourself in a moment of suffering.
- Use Distress Tolerance Skills.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by problems, it is going to be very difficult to think clearly in a heightened emotional state. Distress tolerance skills help manage distress to problems that feel out of control such as in a state of crisis. Think about difficult situations in your life that might create a lot of distress- losing your job or a relationship, being diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition, experiencing physical or sexual assault, losing a loved one due to suicide, etc. Taking care of yourself by using sensory soothing and distraction can help get through this time, before facing all the problems and decisions that come next.
- Do Nothing (Not Recommended)
There is always the option to do none of the above—to not deal with problems. Maybe you lack the self-awareness to know that a problem exists. Perhaps you put on a fake smile and tell yourself that everything is “fine” and hope that things will change while you clearly know that there is a problem but are too scared to do anything. The fear (such as vulnerability, possible failure, loss, or rejection) can seem too great for the risk, and you’d rather remain in an unhappy situation and silently suffer. Doing something requires work and maybe you don’t want to put in the effort. You likely don’t have a plan or resources to help support you. This sounds depressing and hopeless!
If you are tired of feeling stuck in a problematic situation, then I encourage you to do something. CARE Counseling has same week-availability for therapy appointments to help you act. Working together, we can gain clarity on problems, develop a treatment plan, process stressors, and learn new skills to cope.
Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC
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