Tips to Improve Problem-Solving Skills and Reduce Stress

By: Patt Keith

The ability to solve problems can be improved and related stress reduced by understanding its physical and emotional impact and taking active steps to cope or remove the problem.

“No one leads a charmed life,” says psychiatrist Joseph Antonowicz, medical director of UPMC Altoona Behavioral Health Services. “No one gets out alive and no one escapes without scars. It’s part of being human. We all experience disappointments, pain, and lost dreams. We learn to live with it and manage it.”

Some cope with life challenges and stressors better than others, he said, defining stress as “a reaction to adverse things around you,” because each person perceives and interprets stress/pain uniquely. For example, one person may find getting a traffic ticket extremely upsetting. For another, it’s a minor inconvenience.

“One study looked at the levels of morphine required by soldiers who received shrapnel wounds in World War II and compared it to patients who had their gall bladder taken out,” Antonowicz said. “The study showed that the soldiers required less morphine, because in the context of war, being taken to a hospital away from the front where you are being shot at and shooting at people, was less stressful.”

Stress triggers both psychological and biological changes called a “fight or flight” response, and impact different areas of the brain. Even positive life events like building a new house or receiving a promotion trigger a stress response because these situations require multiple decisions and an increase in a person’s attention.

The good news, Antonowicz said, is that each person has the potential to improve their coping skills. Keys to solving a problematic situation and reducing stress, include an ability to step back and more objectively view a situation’s varying facets.

“Instead of looking at it as a massive boulder, it helps to look at it as stones stuck together,” he said. “Then, chip away at the boulder and break it apart stone by stone and step by step.”

Antonowicz suggests “reconstituting oneself, by taking a step back when feeling stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed” by:

  • Taking a time out by removing yourself physically to an alternate location.
  • Meditating.
  • Praying.
  • Exercising.

If a person needs more varied tools, talking to a trained mental health professional is very helpful, he added.

For more information, click here. Resources can also be found by calling the UPMC Altoona Crisis Intervention Hotline at 814-559-2141.