Do you love problem solving? Have you ever been a part of that conversation that starts with “I don’t need you to solve my problem; I need you to listen”?
That’s what this post is about today.
The act of solving problems can often make things worse for someone with anxiety.
Previously I talked about the ‘anxiety of choices’ and how giving options to someone with an anxiety disorder, can cause an anxiety attack. I stand by that.
So how is solving a problem going to make things worse? Let me explain.
I’ll start with a food example, because they’re my favourite, but I’ll give others as well.
If I have decided to go somewhere for lunch today, let’s say Swiss Chalet because this is a common place, and I invite my husband, the answer from him, should simply be ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
“Yes, let’s go.” Done, no problems to solve.
“No, I don’t like Swiss Chalet. Pick somewhere else.” Big problem here.
I respect the fact that he doesn’t want to go to this particular place for lunch, but how will I pick somewhere else? I already had my heart set on Swiss and was already feeling the chicken in my mouth.
Side note, it’s not easy for me to choose so coming up with this location probably already took me most of the morning. How will I start from scratch?
In this example, my husband didn’t solve a problem; he created one.
Had he have said, “No, I don’t like Swiss Chalet. Let’s go to Boston Pizza instead” that would work for me.
He created but immediately solved a problem. Mostly.
Now I’m left with thinking, “What’s on the menu? What can I eat? What will I order?” and we haven’t even left the house yet.
For me, those problems are easier to deal with than “where should we go today?” but for others, it’s not. In those situations, it’s usually “yes, we go,” or “no, we stay home.”
There are no other options, because options create more problems.
Why Offering to Help Can Be a Problem, Too
Let me give another example.
Recently I decided to do an exercise program that comes with a nutrition plan. I am 100% committed to this for eight weeks – the length of the program.
No cheats. I can do this.
I openly talk about it because it keeps me accountable, but it also lets my friends know why I can’t go to lunches, or dinners, or whatever place involves food I might be tempted to eat.
There are so many temptations… I didn’t realize how many there were until I committed to this ‘no cheat’ plan.
Can you imagine sitting in a lunch meeting while everyone else is eating the pizza that was ordered, and you’re stuck with a tuna salad?
Well, this happened. Lots.
For the most part, people have been really encouraging and supportive. There have been a couple of people who have tried to solve my weight loss issues by suggesting solutions of their own.
- “You know what you should do? Eat a salad before every meal.”
- “You know what you should do? Cut out carbs and sugar.”
- “You know what you should do? Eat whatever you want, but drink a full glass of water before you eat, and go on a two hour walk every day.”
I have anxiety. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to find a plan that I wanted to commit to in the first place?
The decision was already made. I made it. That was huge, and it deserves applause all on its own.
When I said, “I’m on a diet,” it’s so that you’d understand why I couldn’t do lunch today. It’s not because I was looking for your input on ways to lose weight.
I’ve already solved this problem, and your solutions are just creating more problems for me.
Yes, I need to cut out carbs and sugar, but did you ask me if my new diet does this?
It does, by the way, but it doesn’t say anywhere in the plan “you’re not going to eat carbs and sugar.” Instead, it created a carb-free, sugar-free meal plan for me to follow.
Telling me to ‘cut out carbs’, just makes me scrutinize every single meal and snack – does this have carbs in it? I don’t know, let me Google.
It creates more problems and more anxiety.
I get when people want to share their weight loss journey. “You know what worked for me? Weight Watchers. I highly recommend it.”
That’s different. That’s a person sharing their story and I can choose to apply it or not.
It’s a very different statement then just outright saying, “You should do Weight Watchers. It works.”
I don’t doubt that all this is good advice, but I didn’t ask for it.
Problem Solving My Way
I am attempting to solve my own problems. It took me a lot of courage to get to this point; I just need the breathing room now. Let me do this.
Whether you suffer from an anxiety disorder or not, I believe this is good practice.
Don’t try to solve anyone else’s problems but your own.
Think of when your children are learning to solve a problem, like tying shoes for example. You watch them do the wrong thing over and over, but until they ask you for help, you let them learn.
They need to find out what doesn’t work, equally as much as what does.
Let me learn too, please. It took me a long time to decide on this solution. It might not work, but I’m trying anyway.
Regardless if it does or doesn’t, I will likely try something else again in the future.
Trying new things is a part of life. It helps us grow. And for those of us with anxiety, it’s a huge part of our battle.
Don’t answer a question that wasn’t asked. Don’t try to solve a problem that we’re already in the middle of solving ourselves.
Please be patient and kind. We’ll come to you when we need advice, and we’ll be direct about it. Otherwise, we’re just asking for support and positive encouragement.
Anxiety or not, we can all use support and positive encouragement.
Thank you for reading.