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.
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