OVERCOMING PROBLEMS - HANDOUT 1
If there is a way to overcome a problem, then there's no need to worry, because there's a way. If there's no way to overcome it, then no use to worry too much--you can't do anything! - Dalai Lama
The way we cope with life's difficulties can have a major effect on our sense of well-being. It is very easy to feel overwhelmed by difficulties, that life is "just a mess". Or, you may find yourself ruminating and worrying about a problem without actually solving it. These guides provide a structured programme to help you solve your current problems and also give yet a set of skills to effectively deal with difficulties in the future.
How to use this handout
There are four separate guides in this set. We suggest you print the first one out, read through it and complete the exercises over the course of a week or so. After that, print off Handout 2, complete the exercises and so on. It is best to give yourself a few weeks to work through them as this is likely to produce more lasting benefit than rushing through it.
Our own answers
The best solutions to difficulties are usually the ones people think up themselves. This is because no one knows our situation as well as we do. Also, when a person solves a problem, it increases their confidence and makes them feel more able to solve future problems. The ability to solve problems is something you already have - it is how you have managed to cope with life so far. This series of handouts is designed to help you tap into this ability to solve the problems that are currently troubling you. Although it will take a little time you will be tackling the root problem rather than "papering over the cracks".
Emotional problems - and some physical problems - are usually a sign that something in our lives needs looking at. The mind and body is a finely tuned instrument and if we have a need that is being neglected the body will often signal it with symptoms. This does not mean we should blame ourselves for being unwell. Self-blame is often part of the problem and stops us acting effectively. Below are two examples of hidden problems:
Paul had a demanding job in the Parks Department, supplying both plants and equipment to the town gardeners. He was also learning a new computer system for the control of these supplies. Paul had been doing these jobs for only two years and his responsibilities were growing. He had saved nearly enough to buy a new car, and knew that his prospects were good - but he was not happy. He dragged himself out of bed to go to work, kept forgetting details of the new computer programme and was never satisfied with himself. It was becoming harder and harder to concentrate on the job, and he had to make ever increasing efforts to keep going. His girlfriend noticed that he seemed depressed and asked him how he was feeling, but he simply said that everyone was overloaded by the changes in the office.|
Mandy was a single parent, with a two years old daughter, Lizzie. The break up with Lizzie's father had been difficult and there were still arguments about his access. As well as looking after Lizzie, Mandy often looked after her friend's children and paid a daily visit to her mother, who was unwell. She wanted to be able to cope with whatever was thrown at her. But she felt troubled. She had started to worry about '"silly" things, like whether Lizzie would make friends at school, and whether Lizzie was as happy and contented as she appeared. Although she knew that Lizzie was fine, the worries continued, and she became increasingly bad tempered, both with Lizzie and her friends. She resented it when people asked her what the matter was since it only made her feel worse. She was angry that they could not see how many demands were being made on her, and did not make allowances for her moods.|
Here is a list of possible things that your problems might relate to. Could any of these be causing you difficulty?
Taking on too much Standing up for yourself|
Restriction in lifestyle caused by a physical illness
Are there any other things that get you down?
Recognising that there is a difficulty
Paul's girlfriend helped him talk about his job more. He explained how he hated his job. Rather than spend his time outdoors as he first had, Paul was increasingly behind his desk fighting with a computer.|
Mandy was confused by her feelings and embarrassed when she let her irritability show to friends. At first she thought this was just a temporary phase, but one Sunday when a friend offered to look after Lizzie so Mandy could take some time for herself, she lost her temper. She was shocked and upset by the strength of her feelings. It took her a long time to calm down and when she did she said to herself "I've got to do something about this". That evening alone, for the first time she started to think about what was going on.
Are you avoiding something?
Paul had avoided talking to his girlfriend about his difficulties. When he began to talk he recognised that he was also avoiding many other things like upsetting his parents, admitting his unhappiness, making a change, taking a risk, and possibly going for an interview.|
Mandy had avoided thinking about the problem altogether. Once she admitted that her bad feelings weren't going to go away of their own accord she started to wonder what was making her feel so irritable and tense. Gradually her thoughts became clearer. She felt that being a good mother meant always being strong for Lizzie and being with her 24 hours a day. Taking time for herself felt like a sign of weakness, even though before Lizzie was born she used to enjoy going out for meals with friends. She felt she would be letting her friends down if she ever said "no" to babysitting for their children.
Writing Your Problem List
Use the last sheet of this handout to write one or more problems you would like to tackle. It's helpful if you can boil down each problem into a sentence or two. Things that might help with this are:
- taking a break - even a short one, get away from the situation to allow yourself time and space to put things into perspective. Difficulties can often be seen more clearly from a distance and when you're not in the thick of them.
- using you "gut feeling" - think about what irritates you most - what the trouble spots are. This is particularly useful if you feel generally dissatisfied but cannot put your finger on where in your life the main problems are. Is it work or home? Is it weekends or weekdays?
"I don't just have one problem but loads!"
If this applies to you, these handouts may be particularly helpful. Listing your problems one by one helps to break your difficulties down into smaller parts you can deal with one at a time. It also helps you to "stand back" from your situation rather than feeling overwhelmed.
"I know what the problems are but I can't think what to do about them"
That's OK. As we said, this approach will take some time to do. If you follow it step by step you should notice an improvement in a few weeks. Patience - especially with yourself - can be very helpful here.
"I don't seem to have any real problems in my life"
Problems can include our own attitudes as well as the external situation. For example, are any of these typical of you?
- talking - to someone you know well and trust
- after reading this handout, taking a couple of days to think about the list before filling it in.
These thinking problems can also be tackled by the approach we are taking here.
Think carefully about your situation over a few days. If you still cannot think of any problems which may be underlying your symptoms, this course may not be for you. You may wish to discuss this further with your doctor or nurse.
- always putting myself down or "beating myself up"
- thinking about what might go wrong rather than what might go right
- perfectionism - setting myself unrealistically high standards
Date:List one or more problems below:
Continue on the back of this sheet if necessary