When a problem can’t be solved now (or ever, for that matter)…what then?
Take a quick glance at the posts on social media, and you’ll see that most of us clearly have a lot on our minds, particularly when it comes to socioeconomic and political uncertainties. A new study from the American Psychiatric Association found that 39 percent of the population is feeling more anxiety than they did this time last year. To determine the National Anxiety Score, the American Psychiatric Association surveyed 1,004 U.S. adults from March 22-25, 2018 and compared the results to a survey of 1,019 adults from April 20-23, 2017. This year’s score, on a scale of 0-100, turned out to be 51, a five-point increase from last year.
Unfortunately, we aren’t in a position to easily resolve many of the difficult and anxiety-provoking circumstances that confront us because the direct power to do so—in many cases—is out of our hands. Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe that we have the wherewithal collectively to effect large-scale change over the long term via political protest, social activism, and other forms of advocacy and action. But many issues simply can’t be solved right here, right now…which totally sucks, I realize.
So, how can we stay connected to reality—particularly when that reality is a very painful one—without losing our sh*t? This is an especially relevant question for the “fixers” among us and others who expect to always have answers up their sleeves and feel sure of themselves (so, basically, most human beings). In fact, most of my clients start therapy believing that they’re here to Solve Problems and make The Anxiety go away. I’m in the enviable position of breaking to them the very unpopular news that i) we can never make anxiety go away; we can only get better at tolerating it, and ii) when a problem lacks an immediate resolution; we can only change our relationship to it. Here’s a quick rundown of one way we might begin to do that when we’re up against some of those insuperable problems:
ACCEPT (instead of fight) REALITY
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you endorse, approve of, like, agree with, or resign yourself to what’s happening. Acceptance also isn’t capitulating to others. It simply means that you’re acknowledging reality instead of fighting it. Fighting reality only heightens our attention to the negative emotional reactions (e.g., resenting, judging, blaming, etc.) we have to what’s happening and fuels discomfort. Our resistance to the truth of the moment requires a tremendous amount of energy and makes an already agonizing situation even less bearable. In other words, it contributes to our suffering. Without acceptance, there’s neither a path toward solving the problem in a way that’s aligned with our values (when and if timing and circumstances permit) nor possibility of letting it go. Simply by acknowledging that the issue exists, we step out of fight-flight and into the thinking part of our brains where we’re able to reasonably consider whether or not asserting ourselves will effect meaningful change. This moment often represents the pivotal point at which we begin to feel some relief and recover some hopefulness: we’re at the precipice of moving on and free to focus on the issues within our sphere of influence.
If you’re struggling to cope with uncertainty and distress and feel like you’re suffering with the painful realities in your life, please reach out to us. Through extensive and focused education, training, and experience, our team of therapists are prepared to guide you toward greater emotional flexibility, comfort, and resilience – we are here for you!