The Secret to Less Anxiety and Depression? More Problems

Young woman sitting at table writing in notepadSometimes, I help people by increasing the number of problems they have. Does this sound like a good formula for a therapist to stay in business? Well, it works for me!

Let me explain.

We make appointments all the time with professionals who can help us with our problems. When the dishwasher stops working, we might stare at it wistfully for a few minutes, wishing it would start working again on its own, but eventually we call a plumber. We see a tutor for help with math, a dentist when we have a toothache, and a mechanic when the car breaks down.

In each of these cases, actual, tangible problems have been identified; thus, an action plan or solution can also be identified.

We know how to solve many things, or trust we will figure out how to solve them, should they occur. If rain is in the forecast, we know how to keep from getting wet. If we get locked out, we know how to get back in—find the spare key, call someone else who has a key, call a locksmith, break a window, etc.

Having a method for solving a problem is important, but you have to know what the problem is first. In psychotherapy, the therapist sometimes has to translate a person’s symptoms into tangible problems before effective methods of solution can become apparent.

Problems can be inconvenient, to be sure, but also tend to be straightforward. So straightforward, in fact, that most of us solve problems daily in our work. A receptionist finds an open time for a patient’s appointment on the doctor’s calendar. A teacher helps a student learn to read. A cook puts ingredients together to make a meal.

A therapist’s work is sometimes straightforward, too. I help people overcome their fear of flying, commitment, and taking tests. I also help them learn how to choose better dates, jobs, and personal habits.

Pay no attention to the pesky little voice in your head that wants you to remain anxiously ever-vigilant, stressed, and depressed.

Therapy gets more complicated when a person presents with anxiety, depression, or certain other issues. Anxiety is a persistent fear that something may happen, could have happened, or potentially could snowball into something beyond one’s comfort level, whereas depression is a persistent pattern of negative thoughts and feelings. These issues can feel overwhelming and impossible to overcome, leading to a sense of gloom and doom.

If it was as simple as taking your vague fear that you’re “not good enough” to the dentist and walking out an hour later having had that fear pulled out of you, we’d all be lining up to go to the dentist. It’s not that simple, of course, but breaking down anxiety and depression into manageable pieces, or problems to be solved, can make them feel less daunting.

So how does one take worries and turn them into specific problems? Ask yourself:

  • What is my greatest fear in this situation?
  • Has it happened before? If so, how could I improve the outcome this time?
  • Do I have any actual, concrete evidence to suggest this will happen?
  • How can I turn my worry into an actual problem?
  • Would an expert in my situation be able to alleviate my concern?

This time of year, I work with a lot of students who say they have anxiety over their final exams. What is often the case, however, is they haven’t thought carefully about all they need to do and mapped it out in the form of a solvable problem. Making a plan to study, seeing their to-do lists laid out in front of them, is typically calming. It turns a vague sense of doom into a real sense of responsibility. They have stuff to do—that’s it. It’s no longer a looming monster. They simply have to do things they don’t want to do.

So do we all. So get to it—tackle your problems. Use the resources available to you. Call a therapist, the dentist, or the tutor. Do some research and become your own expert, if necessary. Just stay focused on the actual problem in front of you, your method, and your solution process. And pay no attention to the pesky little voice in your head that wants you to remain anxiously ever-vigilant, stressed, and depressed.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lindsey Antin, MA, MFT, therapist in Berkeley, California

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

  • 8 comments
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  • Tobias

    Tobias

    December 23rd, 2015 at 4:09 PM

    Thinking about things like that can get me overwhelmed when I know that I have a lot that has to be accomplished.
    So writing it all down, instead of feeling daunting to me, actually gives me a little better focus and I typically get things accomplished far more quickly that I would have thought that I would be able to.

  • jacob

    jacob

    December 24th, 2015 at 7:15 PM

    Now how on earth you ever gonna convince me that more problems could actually be a good thing? Don’t think so

  • Susan

    Susan

    December 25th, 2015 at 8:45 AM

    learning what the real underlying problem is?
    That’s the most difficult part of the whole process
    once you are able to pinpoint the problem, you will often find that fixing it can be easy

  • hall

    hall

    December 26th, 2015 at 1:54 PM

    Got to always have a plan of attack

  • Annika

    Annika

    December 27th, 2015 at 8:33 AM

    I worried a whole lot when I was a student, mainly because even though I am smart and generally do pretty well, I would always tend to get myself pretty worked up into thinking that I was going to fail at anything that I did at the end of the semester. And of course the more that I thought about it the worse things got!
    So I am much better just staying pretty focused all throughout the semester instead of getting myself all worked up right at the end. I try to stay a little more on an even keel than I used to and for me that has worked out so much better than doing a sprint right at the finish line. Now I just try to maintain an even pace the whole race so to speak.

  • Nick

    Nick

    December 28th, 2015 at 5:37 AM

    Nice article Lindsey! It really gives a fresh perceptive on how anxiety patients feel. Of course, as such, it helps solve the problem and treat it efficiently. It is funny how people are prepared to stress over anything. Your example with exams is really good. Even though we can survive without degree, we are prepared to sacrifice our health just so that we can accomplish set goals.

  • Phil

    Phil

    December 28th, 2015 at 6:39 AM

    um no thanks… let me work on the ones I am already dealing with before adding more to the equation

  • Layla

    Layla

    December 30th, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    But don’t you get it?

    It is not until you actually identify the problem and see it for what it is that you can start to tackle it. From then it is much smoother sailing!

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