Compartmentalize Problems to Decrease Stress and Move Forward
Does it ever feel like you’re facing a mountain of problems and negative feelings in your life? Often times when we don’t have our thoughts, feelings, and problems organized (or compartmentalized) properly, the multiple things we are facing in life can seem like all too much to handle.
Often times people come to me with a significant amount of distress and without full awareness of what it is that’s keeping them stressed out or up at night. Either that, or they’re aware of all of their difficulties (or things they would like to change) but are just unsure how to deal with them or where to start. This creates a sense that one is without control – or stuck.
Fortunately, there’s a strategy that can be used to effectively organize your problems to decrease stress and to regain control so that moving forward is possible. It involves writing down everything that is bothering you, prioritizing them in order of importance, recognizing whether or not the things you have written down are anything you can do about, and then developing an action plan. When you do this, the mountain of problems in front of you usually doesn’t seem as difficult to climb. You’re able to move forward with clarity and a better sense of direction.
Below are the steps you can take to compartmentalize and prioritize your problems. Doing this allows you to better visualize the things that are stressing you out so that a plan can be made for dealing with them and so you can mentally set aside things that can be dealt with later.
1 – Set some time aside. Set aside an hour or so of time that you can take for yourself to write. Pull up a word doc or grab a pen and paper, and you’re ready to get started.
2 – Write down all of your current problems and worries. This can include items on your to-do list that are bogging you down, future things you are worried about, things from the past that you’ve been dwelling on, current relationship problems, or things you know you need to do but have been putting off. For this first step, there’s no particular order that things need to be written down. Think of this as a free-writing activity.
3 – Prioritize your list. Now that you have your list, rewrite it by ordering it from most to least important. Some things are time-sensitive. If, for example, one of your problems has an approaching deadline, you might want to put that higher up on the list than something that can wait longer. Other things you might want to consider prioritizing higher are things causing the most emotional distress or small things that can be completed immediately.
4 – Figure out what you can do about each. Go through each one of the items on your list, one-by-one, and determine what it is you can do about them. Develop a plan for tackling each item by writing down what you can do about it and when you will do it. Some of the items might be relatively clear-cut and easy to figure out or to complete. Others might be things you have no control over. And then some might be things that you do have some power to change, but with a solution that doesn’t seem obvious. For those, you may need to explore options or be willing to consider enlisting the help of someone that is willing to listen and provide some perspective.
5 – Start taking action. In the order prioritized on your list, start taking the steps necessary to resolve your problems in the order you have prioritized them. Problems don’t go away on their own and procrastinating only leads to more stress. Now’s the time to take action.
6 – Keep problems (and items on your list) where they belong – As you work on resolving problems or tackling items on your to-do list, remember to keep other problem areas where they belong. Focus on the things you can and should be doing now. Compartmentalizing gives problems a time and a place. They can be accessed and dealt with when appropriate.
7 – Revisit your list every so often. We all know that life has a way of throwing curve balls and additional things to get done and to worry about. Revisit your list every so often to cross items off, see progress made, to add new items, and to reprioritize as necessary.
If sorting out all of the difficulties in life seems like to much to manage on your own, you might find it helpful to seek out support from a therapist. Therapy can provide for perspective and can be a good place to gain new skills and new ways to think that will help you navigate life’s challenges better. In addition, it can help you declutter your mind by working on/resolving current problems or issues from the past that might be weighing you down. Shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, past regrets, unresolved relationship problems, and fears keep y ou stuck and prevent you from moving forward in a healthy kind of way.
If you’re thinking about starting therapy or if you have any questions about steps you can start taking now to gain some control over your life, you can send us a message or you can call/text 727-258-5231.
Joel Schmidt, MA, LMHC