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Emotional Regulation Skill: Problem Solving

Emotional Regulation Skill: Problem Solving

Emotional regulation skills are incredibly important for maintaining our overall health and well-being. These skills not only help us to work through difficult emotions, but they also facilitate positive and enriching emotional experiences. While there are various techniques that can be utilized to navigate challenging emotions, this article will focus on a strategy that aims to reduce emotional vulnerabilities to overwhelming emotions and serves as one of the first steps in navigating difficult situations. The specific skill featured in this article is helpful for regulating emotions and resolving complicated problems. The Problem Solving skill is useful in assisting people with determining appropriate courses of action and implementing solutions to their problems.

There are a variety of different problems that we can be faced with at any given time. Some problems can be chronic in nature, while others can arise unexpectedly. Some issues may result from avoiding a situation for too long, whereas others stem from one-time occurrences. In other instances, the problem at hand may be a reoccurring situation in which a challenging pattern has become repetitious. No matter the type of problem, emotional regulation skills and problem solving tools are needed. Utilizing these techniques will help to resolve distress, identify a reasonable solution, and to implement a helpful course of action.  Please refer to the information outlined below for a step-by-step guide on how to approach and solve problems.

Steps to Problem Solving

Step 1 – Identify and Describe the Problem

Focus on the facts when working through a difficult situation. Pay attention to the specific aspects or consequences of the situation that make it problematic for you. Consider the obstacles and/or other challenges that are present and making this situation difficult for you to solve.

Step 2 – Check the Facts and Confirm that You Have Correctly Identified the Problem (Please see last month’s blog for more information about Checking the Facts)

Examine the facts of the situation to confirm whether your interpretation of the situation is accurate. If needed, use coping strategies to reduce your emotional activation so that you are able to inspect the problem more clearly. Be mindful of the possibility that emotional upset may lead you to identify a larger number of obstacles than what may actually be present. Therefore, it is also important to consider the facts surrounding the perceived obstacles. If your facts are accurate and you have determined that the situation is indeed problematic, then proceed to Step 3. If you have discovered that your facts are not correct, return to Step 1 and reassess the situation to ensure that you are moving forward with an accurate understanding of the issue.

Step 3 – Identify Your Goal(s) Related to How You Would Like the Problem to Be Resolved

When determining the way you would like the situation to turn out, it is important to prioritize setting a realistic and achievable goal over an ideal goal. Ultimately, it is important to identify goals that you intend to pursue in accordance with what needs to happen in order for you to feel better about the situation.

Step 4 – Brainstorm as Many Potential Solutions as Possible

Consider as many options as you can think of for solving the problem at hand. The objective here is to brainstorm and compile a list of solutions. At this time, be intentional about suspending your judgment and refrain from assessing the viability of the solutions. The purpose of this step is to generate as many solutions as possible. You will explore the viability of the proposed solutions during the next step.


Step 5 – Choose a Solution that Aligns with Your Desired Outcome

During Step 4, you developed a voluminous list of possible solutions to address the current problem. Now, it is time to prioritize your proposed solutions according to the likelihood that they will successfully resolve the problem and the ease with which they can be implemented. Pick two or three of the best solutions from your list. Create a pros-and-cons list for each of the top solutions.

Step 6 – Implement the Solution You Selected

The pros-and-cons lists you developed during Step 5 should help you to determine which solution is the best to move forward with and implement to address the problem. If it is helpful or practical, break down the solution into smaller steps and apply them to the situation one step at a time.

Step 7 – Evaluate the Results of Implementing the Solution You Chose

Consider the effectiveness of the solution you implemented. Are you satisfied with the results? Did your solution improve the situation? Are there other aspects of the situation that you need to address? Problem solving may require more than one attempt to obtain the results that you desire. If the solution did not have the effect that you were hoping for, go back to Step 5 and select a new solution to implement. Sometimes problems require attention from multiple angles, and it is possible that implementing a combination of solutions from your list may help you to achieve your goal.

Problem Solving Objectives

When it comes to problem solving, you may have multiple goals in mind that you would like to accomplish. One of the most important objectives in problem solving is to feel better about a given situation. In fact, the starting point of problem solving may be to first tend to your emotions. You might do this by taking a walk, talking to a trusted friend, or using some other emotional regulation strategy. Another common aim of problem solving is to change the current situation that is causing you distress. In such instances, the problem solving steps described above will come in handy as the objective is achieving a longer-acting resolution. A third option to consider when faced with a problem is to remove yourself from the situation. There are some situations in which we are unable to enact change and consequently, our distress persists. In such cases, strategic disengagement may be your best option. For example, if interacting with a coworker consistently leaves you feeling drained and/or upset, limiting your contact with this person might be your wisest move. Finally, the methods you utilize to address a problem might require adjusting the way you are thinking about and interpreting a situation. Sometimes we must contend with situations that we cannot disengage from, and that we do not have the power to change. When we are faced with problems and have minimal options for exerting change, we can support ourselves through these challenges by utilizing supportive self-talk, reframing the situation to create a more balanced perspective, refocusing our attention on something more constructive, practicing radical acceptance, and using other coping strategies.

Need Help or Support?

If you or a loved one are struggling with an anxiety disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or any other mental health concerns, know that you are not alone. If you are a parent or a caregiver and are seeking additional information about how you can best support your child, our office provides parent training with the SPACE program. Please see ourNovember 2021 Newsletterfor more information on SPACE.

For these or any other mental health concerns, please contact The OCD & Anxiety Center at (630) 686-7886 orinfo@theocdandanxietycenter.com. We have offices located in Oak Brook and Orland Park, Illinois and in Marietta, Georgia.  Our clinicians specialize in helping individuals overcome anxiety disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, and other co-occurring mental health conditions. We provide telehealth services that are available in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Florida, and Georgia.

At The OCD & Anxiety Center, we can provide treatment both in the office and at off-site locations (your home, mall, school, work etc.). We will work closely with you to create an individualized treatment plan and discuss the appropriate frequency of appointments (once a week or more, if needed). We look forward to working with you and facilitating your therapeutic journey!

Dr. Ashley Butterfield is a licensed clinical psychologist at The OCD & Anxiety Center in Oak Brook, Illinois.  She specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy for anxiety, OCD, and anxiety-related disorders. She is comfortable working with children, adolescents, and adults and is able to provide treatment both in the office and outside of the office, wherever anxiety happens.

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