Life can be unpredictable, chaotic, stressful, out of balance and just straight up crazy. It is vital to our mental health to be able to manage the stress in our lives in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, we are not born with the knowledge of balancing mental health and the inevitable stressors that life throws our way. We surely did not learn this in home economics class either. We are thrown to the wolves and some of us figure it out, while others are hiding in their bathroom with chocolate and tears.
People naturally gravitate towards a way of relief from the lemonade raining in our lives. For some, that relief is alcohol, drugs, shopping, gym, sex, and so on. Addictions come in many forms and with many masks. You may not even realize that you have your own demons because it is packaged neatly in a decorative class that says “Mommy’s Sippy Cup.” Your addictions may be something with healthy attributes, like going to the gym. Only, you work out more than you do anything else and you have developed an obsession with your workout routine, schedule, nutrition and progress to an unhealthy level. Or, maybe you don’t self-medicate but you isolate yourself from your friends, you stop doing the things you enjoyed once, and maybe you started having anxiety attacks.
In a nutshell, stress makes us do weird things. It makes us sick, or sicker. It steals the joy out of life when it is not under control. It tears relationships apart. It throws hurdles in our way and derails our plans. It imprisons us in a haze of distractions while our problems pile up.
In my Introduction to Healthcare class, our first assignment involved the problem-solving process. I am sharing what I learned so that you can apply this five-step process to areas in your life that may benefit from finding a solution.
What is your problem? Maybe it is something huge and overwhelming or it could be something small and petty that could get swept under the rug. Regardless of the size, every issue should be dealt with because they add up and they grow. They fill up your cup and overflow. The next thing you know, you are drowning.
Tip: Keep a small notebook. Create lists of goals, tasks, issues, solutions, progress, failures, etc.
Fact: It is okay to fail. Think of it like you just took one for the team and learned something from it; now you can share your failure and knowledge with others so that they can grow from it like you did. Failure is awesome. It builds character and wisdom. It’s a challenge and it comes with lessons and stories. It is far from boring and it fuels fire and births bravery… if you allow it. Perspective is everything. Many successful people would not be where they are today without the failures that happened throughout their journey.
Step One – Identify the Problem
Observe the full picture. What is the root of the issue? What is the cause? Are there other factors involved? Look beyond the obvious.
Example: I hate my job and it makes me miserable.
Step Two – Gather Information
Decisions influenced by opinions and emotions may result in poor outcomes. What are the possible solutions and outcomes? What are the facts? What do you feel? What do you want? What or who would be a reliable source of information in reviewing options? What could be the consequences or risks? Ask yourself some questions. Write it down if you need to.
Example: Why do I hate my job? Is it the environment, coworkers, boss, career field or the hours? What is causing me to be unhappy at my place of work?
Step Three – Create Alternatives
We are finding solutions to our problem, not problems with our solutions. Create a list of options, both positive and negative.
Example: Ask for a raise. Go back to college. Update your resume and actively search your job field for opportunities. Find out if you can move to a different position; perhaps you don’t feel challenged or fulfilled in your current position. Do some soul-searching: are you depressed and your job is affected by your mood instead of the other way around? Try changing up your environment by promoting weekly group challenges to boost morale, or doing squats before lunch while answering phone calls, or getting to know coworkers better by planning a night out.
Step Four _ Choose an Alternative and Take Action
This is an important step. What is the point of steps 1-3 if we aren’t going to actually get our hands dirty and make a real effort to resolve this issue? If some of your alternatives are extreme or risky, try the other options first if you want to be on the side of caution. Multi-tasking solutions is also a possibility since some alternatives may take more time than others. Some alternatives may be a quick fix while you work on another alternative that may be more of a long-term solution.
Example: “I really want to go back to college and change careers but it would be a huge process, expensive, a lot of work and a big challenge. I am going to try to make friends with my coworkers and build those relationships and then ask my boss for new responsibilities and a raise.” This is a great start, but keep in mind those were problems for the first solution. Going back to college may be a big challenge but it could be worth it and it could be the best solution. Don’t create problems to scare off a possible solution. However, working with the other alternatives first is a great idea while you investigate the other options.
Step Five – Evaluate and Revise as Needed
Now it is time to review your results. What has been effective or ineffective? At this point, you can adjust your alternatives or fine-tune them. Revise your plan until you sort out the best solution.
Example: You decided you are just not passionate about your job and your boss can’t afford to promote you. You decide to go back to school but this will be a process, so you enroll in online classes. To make the long-term process more enjoyable, you build relationships with your coworkers and convinced your boss to allow casual Friday pizza day to boost morale. You also started listening to podcasts while you work and got a cat to help improve your mood when you go home.
*Hopefully this outline has helped or inspired you to work through stressful situations or problematic times in your life. If you still find that you can’t manage stress, look into getting professional help like seeing a therapist. There may also be local resources in your area to help get through certain issues. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.