Do you listen to music, journal, set goals, take a vacation, paint, make an action plan, exercise, garden, seek counselling, sleep, do yoga, over- eat, use alcohol, talk, set boundaries, self- medicate, meditate, say no, make a pros and cons list, seek advice.
Although there are many different ways that we can cope with the myriad of problems and stresses life throws our way, the strategies we use can be lumped into two basic categories, problem-focused or emotion-focused.
A healthy approach to problem solving is to learn to use a combination of both emotion focused and problem-focused strategies. This combined approach involves tuning into your intuition and emotions while at the same time engaging problem solving strategies that help propel you forward so that you do not become driven by passion or emotion alone.
People who lean too heavily on emotion-focused strategies tend to base their decisions on how they feel in the moment and they can become stuck, unable to make decisions because they become overwhelmed with their feelings.
People who lean too heavily towards a problem solving approach often rush quickly towards a solution with little regard for feelings or intuition about the situation. As you can imagine, both find the other’s style extremely frustrating.
If you have a predominantly emotion-focused style, you may have a tendency towards brooding and can become emotionally overwhelmed by issues. Rather than trying to solve your problems, you ruminate, hoping the situation will change on its own.
You may engage in “magical thinking” in which you invest a great deal of time and effort waiting and wishing and expecting things to magically change for the better.
You might talk about how you feel or how you want things to be, then sit back and wait for others to change. When nothing changes, you may become depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed.
You may try to cope with your growing depression and anxiety by minimizing and denying your feelings. You may numb your feelings with alcohol or drugs, or by throwing yourself into hobbies or work.
Your social support is very important to you and you rely on your friends to help you talk through your feelings. However, without having a problem-focused approach, you go over the same ground again and again with no resolution.
The good news is that you can learn to decrease the intensity of your emotions and learn problem solving techniques. You can learn to not only tune into your feelings, but to act on them.
This means learning to trust yourself, your judgement, and your ability to make decisions. When you learn to listen to your feelings, rather than be overwhelmed by them, and to make decisions based on those feelings, you can lead a balanced life that includes sound decision making.
If you have a predominantly problem-focused style, you are eager to solve problems and believe every problem is meant to be fixed. You love coming up with solutions and ideas.
You sometimes don’t know when to walk away from a problem, when to stay silent, or when to just listen, both to others and to your own inner voice. It’s hard for you to watch someone struggle, to let them figure it out on their own, to only offer advice when asked, and to trust others to figure it out for themselves.
Sometimes you want to jump in and solve a problem before you fully understand what the issues are, and even if you do understand, before the other person feels fully understood.
You might be slightly uncomfortable with emotions, your own and others. You live your life primarily by what goes on around you, not by what goes on inside you.
Tuning into yourself and to others makes you feel slightly uncomfortable and sometimes even slightly judged. However, when you learn to suspend judgement and listen, you discover a wealth of useful information about yourself.
You learn about your needs, wants, fears and insecurities, information that can only be accessed by tuning in quietly and attentively to yourself. This information is critical to helping you maneuver along life’s path to a more fulfilling, balanced life.
Most of us utilize a combination of both emotion-focused and problem-focused strategies. However, if you recognized yourself as having a predominately emotion-focused or predominantly problem-focused style and you would like to develop a more balanced approach, why don’t you give a Walmsley counsellor a call?
Jenny DeReis, MC Psych, CCC