The Problem with Problem Solving (Your Emotions)

Greetings fellow mindful travelers,

I hope you are enjoying a relaxing Labor Day weekend.  This month I am diving into a topic that is close to my own history and will likely resonate with you as well.  It’s all about problem solving emotions.  Enjoy!

When I was in high school, I loved math.  I know not everyone loves math, but I did.

It was remarkably satisfying to simplify an equation or solve for x.  My mind naturally gravitates toward problem solving.

However, when it came to emotional problems, I didn’t quite know what to do.  My same skills of mathematical deduction could not be applied to reduce my fear, anxiety, or depression.

But why not?

Before I answer that, I want to say that this is a common pattern for people who naturally are good at logical reasoning, so if you can relate to what I’m saying, you’re not alone.

Many people I work with and meet have grown up developing very sharp analytical skills.  Our society tends to value these skills for certain jobs.

In the Bay Area, where I do therapy, there are a lot of people working in the tech industry.  And at work, analytical skills are useful, necessary, and a great asset to have.

The problem, however, is that they are not particularly helpful when it comes to healing painful negative emotions.

So why can’t you “solve” your depression, or logically reason yourself out of your anxiety?

Think about it this way – What happens when you tell a highly depressed person that they need to be solved?

What happens when you tell a highly anxious person that they are not thinking straight?

Does it help?

Probably not very much.

You are basically telling the emotions: “There is something wrong with you.  You shouldn’t be the way you are.  You are a problem that needs to be solved.”

Ouch.

When it comes to emotional problems, trying to manipulate, change, solve, or reason your way out does not really work.

So you might be wondering: What does work?

First of all, everyone is different, so do what works for you.  However, in my experience, there is one approach to difficult emotions that is consistently useful.

When it comes to painful emotions, the most helpful way of relating to them is…

Acceptance.

Yep, acceptance.  Remarkably simple, yet not something we often practice.

Some people might think it is “weak” or weird to accept your emotions.

I mean, they are the problem!  Right?!

No, not really.  The problem is how you relate to your emotions.

It’s not the emotions themselves.

We all have emotions – fear, anger, worry, joy, sadness ….

It’s just part of being human.

Our emotions are probably not going anywhere anytime soon.

However, where we have choice is how we choose to relate to our emotions.

So – do you want to see your emotions as a problem to be solved?

Or – as an energy to be felt, seen, heard, and cared for?

Acceptance means to be open and willing to feel whatever you are really feeling.

It means to let go of struggling, controlling, problem solving, or manipulating our emotions in any way.

It means to just be with our feelings, to allow them to play out as they do within us.

When it comes to our emotions, we can let go of our tendency to problem solve them.

And we can step into a new space of Accepting them.

Try it out with yourself.  Try it out with other people’s emotions.

See if it makes a difference.

Until next time,

Ellis Edmunds, Psy.D.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with anxiety and could use the support of a professional, it would be an honor to be of service.  I offer Therapy for Anxiety and Mindfulness Workshops in Oakland, California.

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