Problem Solving versus Worrying

Problem Solving versus Worrying

If you’re a worrier, you probably think that problem solving and worrying are the same thing; but in fact they are not.

Worrying vs. Problem Solving

Worrying is a negative thought process. When you worry, thoughts involving the worst case scenarios go round and round in your head. You may wonder what you’d do if this situation happened, but by that point your anxiety is already so high that you can’t think clearly, and an actual solution never comes. Instead the focus becomes dwelling on your worst fear. In this way, worrying makes you anticipate and fear something that is typically unlikely to happen in the future, yet leaves you unprepared and without a plan to deal with this unlikely occurrence even if it did happen.

Problem solving, however, is different. Problem solving involves a constructive thought process that focuses on how you can flexibly and effectively deal with a problem. It includes identifying what the problem is and it’s possible solutions. You may examine the pros and cons for each suggestion you come up with; and based on  your evaluation are able to develop a plan of how to best deal with the situation. Once you make your decision, you put your new plan into place, and at the end of this process you step back and evaluate how well you’ve dealt with the problem.

As you can see, worrying is fairly unhelpful process, which focuses on things that haven’t happened; while problem solving is a practical and helpful process which focuses on a specific problem at hand.

Preparing for Problem Solving

Before trying to solve a problem, there a few things to consider…

The Right Set Up

When you decide to turn to problem solving instead of worrying, you want to set yourself up for success so you can be effective at using it.

  • Leave it to “thinking time”. Problem solving takens energy and concentration, and isn’t something that can be done on the run. Give it the time and attention it deserves to get the most benefit. Want to learn more about what we mean by thinking/worry time? Learn more here.
  • One by one. Make sure you’re only dealing with one problem at a time, and don’t try to find solutions to everything all at once. To help with this, stick to your “thinking time” limit. If there’s more to be done, you can always revisit it the next day.
  • Use Paper. Make sure you tackle your problem on paper and write it down, don’t try to do it in your head. Things get to cluttered when you try to hold a number of things in your head at one time, and become clearer when putting pen to paper.

Is There A Problem?

Ask yourself, is there actually a problem that requires solving? Whatever it is you’re worried about, ask yourself:

  • Is it a real and likely problem I am concerned about?
  • Is the problem something happening now?
  • Is the problem something I have some control over?

If the problem you’re worried about is an unrealistic and unlikely prediction of the future, of which you have little control, then although it might appear that the problem is “real,” it is not an actual problem that requires action. In these cases, continue to postponement and your attention training exercises. to assist you in letting go of the worry. However, if it is a real problem in the here-and-now that you can do something about, then using problem solving strategies may be a useful way to deal with the problem.

Some examples of common solvable worries include…

  • the phone and gas bills are due, and I don’t have enough money to cover both
  • I have too many tasks to finish at work/uni/home by the end of the week
  • I had a fight with my spouse/partner
  • My child disobeys me a lot

Some examples of unsolvable worries include…

  • My partner might have an accident
  • My child might join the “wrong crowd” and start doing drugs
  • There could be a terrorist attack
  • Interest rates might go up
  • I might become ill

Stay tuned next week, where we’ll talk about the 6 effective steps to problem solving!

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

This article was adapted from:

Saulsman, L., Nathan. P., Lim, L., Correia, H., Anderson, R. & Campbell, B. (2015). What? Me Worry!?! Mastering your worries. Perth, Western Australia: Centre for Clinical Interventions.

Problem Solving versus Worrying
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