Problems: How much space do they take up in your life?

As much as we might like to make our problems disappear, we can usually accept that’s not the way reality works.

Some people use the technique of minimizing, or even ignoring problems But pretending something doesn’t exist often gives rise to a cascade of additional problems—the domino effect, I call it.

the domino effect

There is a more effective way to lessen the trouble that a problem brings into your life, and that is to shrink the problem down smaller. Here’s how you can do that, complete with illustrations.

The large gray circle represents the boundaries of your life. The scope of it contains smaller circles, or all the things you give your time, attention, and energy to: relationships, work, hobbies, caring for your physical needs, and so on. The black circle is a problem in your life.

a problem in your life

Now, the more time, attention, and effort you spend on the problem, the larger it grows; it gets bigger and/or worse.

the problem gets bigger or worse

The way to shrink many problems is not to try and force it to become smaller, but to shift your focus to other areas of your life. When you feed a problem attention it sucks that energy in and grows bigger. The more time and attention you give to a problem, the less you have to enjoy the pleasant parts of your life. When you attend to the positive and rewarding areas and endeavors, the problem might not completely disappear, but diverting your energy away will cause it to become smaller.

shrinking problems in your life

Sometimes problems even edge out other activities so they disappear from the circle. I remember one period in my life when I was dealing with something difficult, I stopped listening to music. I love music, and it had always been a source of joy and restoration for me. When I noticed this, I had to actually force myself to listen to music—the problem was so entrenched in my life that it had influenced my perceptions of a positive activity.

When I started listening to my music collection again, it helped make me happier. That in turn strengthened me to take a better approach to the problem and to have a healthier life while having the problem in it.

Not all problems are this amenable to shrinking them down to a tolerable size. Sometimes a problem is complex. Sometimes it gets hooked into your beliefs. Or maybe it’s just been around so long, it’s almost become a habit. If for any reason you’re having difficulty budging that problem, calling a De-Stuck-ification Agent might be the best thing you can do for yourself.

Guerrilla Self-Care

I was meeting with a client and we were celebrating a recent instance of her self-care in the face of stress. She has been practicing expanding her repertoire in this area of her life. I won’t note specifically what she did, but it involved being very intentional about taking a few moments from a harried day to focus on herself and her needs. As she reported on the ease it brought into her experience of the day, we somehow hit on the phrase “guerrilla self-care”.

Maybe you can relate to a time you had so much to do, you didn’t want to take the slightest moment for yourself, and yet your tension mounted, perhaps causing stiff muscles, an irritable mood, a sense of urgency… That’s exactly the moment a “stress buster” is called for.

We’ve all known the relief and release that comes from taking a short break to nourish our spirit, to replenish our reserves. Rarely is what we’re working on so important we need to begrudge ourselves a little break to relax. Yet we push through, thinking we’ll get done sooner and be free to enjoy ourselves—but really, don’t we not only get done at about the same time since we return to our task more productive, and we have a better frame of mind and more bodily comfort for having taken a mini-vacation?

Some activities that make good guerrilla self-care moves include:

  • Taking a brief walk
  • Looking at something beautiful
  • Closing your eyes and giving your ears a massage
  • Listening to a favorite song
  • Calling/texting a friend
  • Stretching and taking a few deep, cleansing breaths
  • Imagining a restful visualization
  • Asking someone you care for, for a hug
  • Nibbling a bit of dark chocolate
    I think the best ones involve the senses; the more the better. And it can be anything that’s meaningful to you. Just a few minutes break and you’ll notice that your whole outlook can brighten. Guerrilla Self-Care is really just a fun way to saying Mindfulness, and that’s something we could all use a little more of.

    What’s one of your Guerrilla Self-Care success stories?

    Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scales

    Depression, Anxiety, & Stress Scales (DASS)

    This inventory is offered for general informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for seeing a trained professional to diagnose your symptoms or condition.

    After you submit your answers, you will see a page with your responses and an interpretation. You can print this page and bring it with you to show to your doctor or psychotherapist as part of asking for their assistance dealing with any of these issues.

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    Gott Sex?

    When I come across a resource that’s well-done and potentially helpful, I want to share it with others. Here’s one; it’s my hope that it’ll be useful to you in lieu of or in addition to counseling therapy.

    Gott Sex? (Online Quiz)

    Assess the quality of sex, passion, and romance in your relationship. By the Gottmans, nationally known therapists and couple relationship researchers.