Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Just when you thought you could finally settle into your routine and take it easy…a problem comes up.
Maybe you’ve hit a snag with your insurance provider. Your doctor is leaving the practice and you have to find a new one. There’s a side effect of a new treatment, or you've received another diagnosis.
There are many other challenges that can pop up along the way when you’re living with a chronic condition. Problems leave us with a decision to be made and possible solutions to consider. And, most likely, lots of feelings.
Let’s face it: Making decisions about your health can be scary. Why? Well, problems remind us that life can feel pretty uncertain at times. Who wants to be reminded of that? Also, solving a problem may involve a lot of time and energy when you may not be feeling up to the challenge. And—worse yet—solving your problem may mean making some kind of a change. And humans aren’t all that good with making changes.
9 steps to consider the next time you're thrown for a loop
1. Take your emotional temperature. A sudden need to shift directions can leave you feeling helpless. And that could bring up a lot of feelings, like fear, frustration, and sadness. Don’t use up your mental energy judging yourself for being human. Let yourself feel how you feel. Finding someone to talk to, who can listen without trying to tell you what to do, can help. And remember: life has a way of getting in the way of our plans.
2. Take off your boxing gloves. Fighting reality is a losing battle. When you give up fighting yourself, you free up energy that can be dedicated toward finding a solution.
3. Define the problem. You mind may be all over the place with a lot of “what if-ing.” If so, you may get so caught in the trees that you can’t see the forest. So take a step back and give the problem a definition. Straightforward and simple. For example: I have to get a new doctor. My insurance company denied coverage. I have to adjust to a new regimen. If you have a clear definition of the problem then you’ll be that much more able to focus on potential solutions.
4. Don’t make your whole life bad. When a problem comes along, it’s only human to feel like everything in life is going wrong. But one problem doesn’t have to define your life. While you’re at it, you might want to remind yourself of the things in your life that are going well. Perspective! Remind yourself: I can do this!
5. Brainstorm on all the possible solutions. Go off by yourself and make a list. What you can do yourself—calls, letters, research, and so forth. Consider the other people who can help, such as your doctor’s billing manager. Think about information resources you might tap into, such as a website or a friend with the same condition. Get creative and think outside of the box.
6. Ask yourself: Have I been here before? Most likely, this isn’t the first time you’ve had to regroup and change course. Think about how you’ve solved similar problems in the past. There may be a solution you can dust off and use in this situation.
7. Evaluate the alternatives. Take a look at each of the possible solutions. For each one, ask yourself: What would I need to do to make this solution work for me? Time? Energy? What resources would I need? Information? People? If you take the time to think through the alternative solutions, chances are you‘ll feel that much more confident about whatever solution you choose.
8. Zero in and move forward. After you have taken a close look at each of the possible solutions, the one that is most feasible will most likely be clear to you. But consider this: if you’ve done your homework on evaluating the alternatives, you’ve also got a Plan B and even a Plan C.
9. Keep yourself anchored. Stay connected with your support network—friends, family, trusted healthcare professionals. You might even want to sit down with someone you trust and run your solutions past them. Also, maintain your self-care routine. Do things that make you feel good, that enhance your well-being. Don’t allow life’s challenges to throw you off center.
Nobody’s looking for more problems. But look at it this way: problems are also opportunities to exercise those problem-solving muscles! And to grow!