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Health & Balance

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Stressed Out About a Problem? Try the Focus-Shift Trick.

10-Minute Solutions

Whichever shift-focus technique you decide to use, don't spend all day doing it. About 10 to 20 minutes is all you need to reboot your brain. Distract yourself for too long, and you may never want to go back to problem solving.

If you've tried every trick on the list and your mind is still stubbornly stuck on your problem, here are a few quick fixes to try:

  • Phone a friend. A friend or family member could be your lifeline when you've got a seemingly insurmountable problem to tackle. "Use them as a sounding board," Fabick advises. If you trust your friend's judgment, they may give you some perspective on how to deal with the problem, he says.
  • ‘Reframe’ the problem. One coping technique you can try is to switch to a more positive point of view. For example, if you are stressed about a new project you're working on because you think your boss never respects your ideas, try coming to the realization that every manager is different and that you might have more success taking your suggestions to another manager, Fabick suggests.
  • Write it down. When a problem is weighing you down, you can get into a cycle of unproductive, repetitive thinking, says Fabick. Writing down the problem is a way to help you see it more clearly. Journaling is one way of doing it, but he also suggests trying a technique called hot pen. You put your pen to paper and, without lifting it, write everything you can think of about the problem. Then you review and organize what you wrote. Hot pen is a good way to vent, and it can help you reach a kind of clarity on a difficult issue, Fabick says.
  • Mentally rehearse. Not sure how to navigate your way through a problem? Do a run through with a friend or in your head, just as you'd rehearse a speech you were nervous about delivering. Think about how you'd like to approach the problem or conversation, what your ultimate goals are, and what you definitely don't want to happen. "When you're prepared you're going to be a lot less anxious about it. That should reduce the amount of unproductive ruminating you do," Fabick says.
  • Ask for help. Get input from a trusted psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor. If the problem is work-related, ask your company about bringing in a conflict resolution specialist to help mediate the dispute or help you identify new ways to approach the problem. Your employer may also offer an Employee Assistance Program, also called an EAP. EAP programs often feature low-cost or no-cost assistance and referrals to trained therapists. Some EAPs offer a few free counseling sessions as well.

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Reviewed on February 06, 2012

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