Problem solving

ReachOut Parents Youth Mental HealthThe more problems we’ve dealt with, the more we realise there’s usually something we can do to fix a situation.

It doesn’t mean problems are any less difficult, just we’re less likely to be daunted by them.

How we think about and deal with problems can depend on how we’re feeling at that moment. Confidence and self-esteem levels make a big difference, but experience plays its part too.

Even if there’s not much we can do to solve a problem, simply trying to address it can make things a bit better. Whether it’s for yourself, or to help someone else, we’ve put together some strategies to help make a problem more manageable.

Step-by-step problem solving

  • Divide the problem – sometimes a lot of problems are linked. Looking at each smaller problem as a separate issue to be dealt with can make things more manageable
  • Set goals for each problem – keep them realistic and focus on things you can actually do, not what you’d like to happen
  • Brainstorm – try and think of as many possible solutions as you can think of. Some ideas will be impractical, but don’t judge them yet; finish your list first
  • Eliminate bad options – cross out ideas that are unrealistic or unlikely to be helpful
  • Look at your options – go through the remaining options and write down the pros and cons of each
  • Identify the best – one option might jump out at you, or there may be a couple you can use
  • Implement the best options – put your ideas into practice. A trial-and-error approach can help test possible solutions until you find the right one
  • Evaluate the results – after a solution has been reached, it’s important to keep track of how it all works out, to help manage the situation or future problems.

Coping strategies

Problem solving usually helps find solutions, but sometimes we still can’t fix the situation. If you’ve tried a number of things and none of them have worked, it might be worth working on a coping strategy.

Coping strategies can help us accept situations beyond our control. They can enable us feel better even when the problem still exists.

Tips to help you cope:

  • Get busy. Throw yourself into enjoyable activities to help take your mind off the problem
  • Talk to people you trust as they can help you accept what you can’t change
  • Relax – do whatever helps you wind-down.

Problems are a normal part of life, and we usually feel better when we do something about them instead of just dwelling on them. But, if you can’t solve the problem, it’s helpful to change the way you think about it – to practice acceptance and move on with life in a positive way.


Making tough, or potentially life-changing decisions isn’t easy. Trying to help someone else with a decision they’re considering can be even harder. If possible try to put aside your own preferences and judgements and try to be as objective as possible.

Identify unhelpful behaviour

If you’re stressed, excited or anxious, it’s much harder to make a good decision. The more emotional you are about an issue, the more likely you are to make an impulsive decision that may not work out. Try to keep a clear head when you’re making important decisions.

Give yourself time

Don’t rush your decision if you can help it. Once you’ve made a choice, it can be wise to hold off on acting straight away also.

Explore the risks

If something seems exciting it can be easy to gloss over any possible risks. It can helps to write down a list of the pros and cons for the outcome of each choice.

Think about your goals and values

It can help you make a decision. But they can change over time, so it can be worth while re-visiting decisions, especially for longer-term plans or choices.

Examine alternatives

There can be different possible outcomes to a decision. They’re not all obvious so it’s worth considering what else could happen and if you’re ok with that too.

Talk to people

Talk to people you trust about the potential consequences of your decision, particularly people who’ve been in similar situations.

Keep a diary

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by having to make a decision. Keeping track of how you feel can help you stay focused and allow you to make a more considered choice.

Letting people know

If you’re worried about someone’s reaction then think about how you’ll manage the situation before telling them. If the decision affects them personally you might want to give them advance warning of what you’re going to do.

Stay committed

Once you’ve made your decision, you might feel pressure to backtrack on it, perhaps from people who don’t agree with you. Take their views on board and if there’s merit in their arguments, consider their advice. However, if the decision still feels right to you, stick to it. The important thing is making the choice that’s right for you.

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