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Benefits of Structured Problem-Solving to Tackle Anxiety and Depression

Steven Losardo, LMFT

The efficient relationship of holistic internal self and external interactions is essential to maintaining a healthy balance in life. Habits, routines, emotions, physical functioning, and thoughts intertwine our life situations. Further, even if we are all in the same situation, each will have a unique story as we relate to it. When depression or anxiety impacts our lives, we need to review the dynamic of this inside-outside relationship to improve and manage symptoms effectively.

As we create habits over time, we can find that they can cause depression and anxiety (Andersson, 2016). Additionally, we can discover our behaviors and routines to keep the symptoms going (Andersson, 2016). As a result, we need a course correction, and structured problem solving can help us make adjustments. The use of structured problem solving will challenge and dismantle automatic negative thoughts. The approach can also facilitate the behavioral and emotional change needed to decrease the symptoms of depression and anxiety (Andersson, 2016). This blog will review a hypothetical example to illustrate how this can be of benefit.

A typical example occurs in times of high stress. We can feel bogged down trying to make a decision, and we cannot think clearly. Needing to complete tasks due, we may begin to worry or ruminate, shifting from one thought to the next without fully processing the worry. In these moments, it can be hard to see a way out with worst-case scenarios in our heads telling us otherwise. The anxiety trap has got to us again! 

While the anxiety trap has a unique call we know all too well, it is still too seductive to pass up. So, we begin to feel down, moving from one negative thought to the next. We lose sleep and become easily fatigued. The negative thoughts bring negative emotions, and we have a multifaceted problem. Our unhelpful process welcomes feelings of depression. Like anxiety, we not only help intensify the symptoms, but we can help keep them going. So, we are back here yet again. Perhaps this time, we ask, “What can you do to make things better (Andersson, 2016)?”

The Eight Steps to Structured Problem Solving  

(Adapted from This Way Up 2020)

(This is an EXAMPLE and NOT Advice):

Know Where You Are 

Before beginning structured problem solving, check in. Look for past examples of positive life outcomes such as better grades, higher self-esteem, financial security, and good physical and mental health resulting from self-discipline (APA, 2012). These can highlight strengths in maintaining new behaviors and navigating energy depletion. Next, review your history of resisting short-term gratification to pursue long-term goals or objectives. Finally, get to know your enemy by looking for negative beliefs, attitudes, and a lack of self-control when tempted. This devil on your shoulder highlights problematic constraints to healing (APA, 2012). 

Identify the Problem 

Here you will try to write down the problem being as specific as possible: 

In January, I was promoted to a new position. My job stress has increased as “I must do better and try even harder in this role.” My workload has doubled as well. I have been to my general practitioner, and there are no physical issues. I haven’t been to the gym in a month and have not slept well. I have a stomach ache in the morning with this acidity feeling Abraham, F. (2021). I do not think I can cope with this workload. My recent Q1 review was outstanding. This keeps me going a bit but does not feel as rewarding as in the past. 

Brainstorm as Many Solutions as You Can

  1. I can white-knuckle this as I have for the past 15 years
  2. I hear I can create passive income through Social Media such as Instagram. Maybe I will figure that out and then quit my job and work remotely in Bali. 
  3. Take time off
  4. Delegate 
  5. Tell my new manager I cannot take on this much work.
  6. Leave the company and figure it out in a month. 

Evaluate Each Possible Solution

Will only review 1, 5, 4 

  1. This is “Old School Me,” and I know I can keep this going. However, my wife has stated I have been critical and short with her. We no longer have date nights, and I have not been looking after myself. 
  2. The promotion came with a new manager. While she is supportive, I hardly know her. 

I worry she will think I am not suitable for the promotion if I mention this.  

  1. Delegation may be an option. I have wanted to develop this skill since our training last

month. If we are working on skill development, my company provides a skill-specific mentor. I would not feel alone and have support. 

Choose the Best or Most Practical Solution

I will select 5 and delegate some workload to others in the team. First, I need to review the process with my manager for approval and be honest about the situation. 

Create a Detailed Action Plan and Review the Progress

One way to create an action plan is to use SMART Goals making the desired changes Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound (Cothran & Wysocki, 2012). The process turns goals into smaller achievable chunks of steps that are not overwhelming. In the example, two goals will be delegation and the manager meeting. Another goal will be for relational needs at home. The blog will review only the meeting goal.

  1. Specific- Plan what to say to my manager and write out what to say to my manager. In the past, this removed anxiety for me. 
  2. Measurable- I will review my symptoms, scaling the intensity, duration, and frequency from 1-to 5. 
  3. Attainable – I am comfortable setting up the meeting and having the conversation
  4. Relevant – My manager likes that we come up with solutions. The interaction will also allow me to continue developing the new relationship. Further, being honest and speaking up (vs. not saving anything) brought me peace in the past. 
  5. Timebound – The meeting will be requested in the next 48 hours and be 30 minutes long. There will be a follow-up meeting in a month. 
  6. Review – I will review the scaling data, make adjustments accordingly and note achievements. If the outcome is positive I will incorporate it into personal tools for use in a similar situation.  

The Relapse Prevention Plan

Adding relapse prevention and a recovery plan will be helpful. Planning highlights all the issues that may resurface if I do not use the skill. For example, if I do not stick to these skills, I will have an acidic stomach in the morning, little sleep, and relational discord. A recovery plan is there for when we fail.  The plan highlights things you will do to get yourself back on track quicker when there is a failure. 

Depression and anxiety need to be challenged to manage them effectively. As part of this, structured problem solving is a must. This powerful approach tunes you into your symptoms as you tackle them. Further, as you utilize the process, you create a repeatable procedure for this opportunity and others in your life. During this time, you will fail. That is a good thing!!! Over time, you will notice a positive shift in your responses to failure as you stand by this commitment and others (Walsh, 2016). 

References

APA, (2012). What you need to know about willpower: The psychological science of self-control.

Retrieved on February 16, 2021 from https://www.apa.org/topics/personality/willpower  

Abraham, F. (2021). How to Stop Anxiety Stomach Pain & Cramps.

Retrieved from https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/symptoms/stomach

pain#:~:text=Anxiety%20 also%20releases%20a%20 stress,cases%2C%20stress%2d Induc

d%20 ulcers. On April 16, 2022.

Andersson, G., Wagner, B., & Cuijpers, P. (2016). ICBT for depression. In Guided Internet-based

treatments in psychiatry (pp. 17-32). Springer, Cham.

Cothran, H. M., & Wysocki, A. F. (2012). Developing SMART goals for your organization.

Retrieved on November 23, 2018.

This Way Up. (2020). Retrieved from https://thiswayup.org.au/programs/depression-program/

On April 15, 2022. 

Walsh, F. (2016). Strengthening family resilience, 3rd ed., Guilford press: New

York, New York.

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