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Problem solving

Worrying is a natural response to life's problems. But when it takes over and we can start to feel overwhelmed, it can really help to take a step back and break things down.

Learning new ways to work through your problems can make them feel more manageable, and improve your mental and physical wellbeing.

Video: Problem solving

The tips in this video can help you to find strategies and solutions for tackling the problems that can be solved, and learning how to manage and cope with those that cannot.

Steps and strategies to help you solve problems

1. Focus on your values

Feeling like you have lots of problems to solve in different areas of your life can make it difficult to know how and where to start.

A great way to focus is to write down a few areas of your life that are most important to you right now – for example, a relationship, finances or a long-term goal like studying or developing your career.

This can make it easier to prioritise which problems to tackle.

2. Tackle problems with possible solutions first

It's important to work out if your problem can be solved or is a "hypothetical worry" – things that are out of your control even though you might think about them often.

They might be based on something that happened in the past that cannot be changed or a worry about the future that starts with "what if…".

Ask yourself whether a problem can be dealt with by doing something practical. If the answer is no, it's a hypothetical worry.

Make a list of your problems, and work out which are solvable and which are hypothetical.

3. Set aside time to work through solvable problems

Set aside 5 or 10 minutes to think about possible solutions for one of your solvable problems.

Try to be as open-minded as you can, even if some ideas feel silly. Thinking broadly and creatively is often when the best solutions come to mind.

It may feel difficult at first but, over time, this approach can start to feel easier.

Once you have some ideas, think through or write down:

  • the pros and cons of each solution
  • whether it's likely to work
  • if you have everything you need to try it

4. Make a plan

The next step is to choose a solution you want to try and make a plan for putting it into action. Try to be specific:

  • What are you going to do?
  • Do you need the support of anybody else?
  • How much time do you need?
  • When will you do it?

5. Try 'worry time'

Not all of our problems can be solved right away, but it can be difficult to switch off and stop ourselves from dwelling on them.

Using the "worry time" technique to stick to a short set time – say 10 to 15 minutes in the evening – for worrying can make this much easier to manage.

You can learn more about the worry time technique on tackling your worries.

6. Find time to relax

Worrying about our problems can make it harder to relax, but there are lots of things you can try to help you clear your mind and feel calmer.

The most important thing is to find what works for you. It might be getting active, spending time on an existing hobby or trying a new one, or techniques like mindfulness, meditation or our progressive muscle relaxation exercise.

Video: Progressive muscle relaxation

This video will guide you through an exercise to help you recognise when you're starting to get tense, and relax your body and mind.

7. Review and reflect

Once you start trying new approaches to solving and managing problems, consider setting aside time to review what went well with your solutions or anything else you noticed.

Make notes of the problems you face and any strategies you use to overcome them. This can come in handy later on and also be a good reminder of what works best for you.

Ticking off on a checklist any problems you manage to solve is a great way to recognise your achievements and boost your confidence.

8. Give journaling a go

Sometimes getting our thoughts out of our head – and down onto paper, our phones or anything else – is a great way to stop our worries and "what ifs" from spiralling out of control.

Expressing ourselves in this way can also make it easier to spot when our thoughts are unhelpful and we may benefit from a more balanced outlook. Give it a go to see if this works for you.

More self-help CBT techniques you can try

Bouncing back from life's challenges

Taking steps to stay on top of your mental wellbeing and build resilience can really help you deal with problems when times are tougher. Learn more, and see tips and techniques you can use.

Find more ideas to try in self-help CBT techniques