Turning Problems into Challenges

Thinking of your problems as challenges is, apparently, the first step to overcoming them. It fosters a positive attitude, because challenges seem nobler and more surmountable than your garden variety problems. Whereas problems niggle and prevent us from achieving our goals, challenges are goals in themselves and demand to be met.

Problems tend to promote black-and-white thinking: we think of them as either “solved” or “unsolved.” In contrast, we think of challenges as being fought over numerous battles, with each battle won bringing us closer to the ultimate goal of overcoming the challenge. This is particularly helpful when you are facing a complex and/or long-term issue like mental illness.

If you think of your mental illness as a problem, you set yourself up for failure because you cannot cure it in one fell swoop. There is no single action you can take to solve all of your mental health issues, although there are many actions you can take which have significant effects. Considering your mental illness as a challenge, on the other hand, helps you to tackle the issues you face.

Why it’s helpful to view mental illness as a challenge, not a problem:

  1. It reminds you that there will be ups and downs. Progress is rarely linear when tackling a challenge, especially when that challenge is dealing with mental illness. There will be good days and bad. It’s easier to cope when you see these fluctuations as a natural part of overcoming challenges.
  2. It encourages you to break down the challenge into smaller goals. Doing this is essential when you are facing complex issues. Every small goal you achieve is a vital step to overcoming the challenge. When you realise this, you learn to value every stage of progress, no matter how small, and slip-ups are less demoralising.
  3. It promotes a multi-faceted approach. Because challenges are complex, we accept that we will have to tackle different aspects of the challenge. If you planned to climb Everest, you would have to consider a variety of things and develop a number of skills. It’s not enough to buy a plane ticket and show up. You have to plan your ascent, raise money, improve your fitness, buy the appropriate equipment, etc. Addressing the challenge of mental illness likewise demands that you consider every angle.

Pinpointing your challenge/s.

Mental illness is a challenge because it prevents us from living the life we want. The life you want to live is individual to you and you have to decide what you want to achieve, the type of lifestyle you would like to have, the type of relationships you want, etc. It could be argued that many mental health conditions need to be managed rather than cured, so the illness itself is not a challenge — its effects are the real challenge/s you need to face. Whatever you view on whether all mental illnesses can be cured, it is useful to think of managing your mental health rather than curing an illness.

For one thing, everybody has to manage their mental health. Regardless of whether you have experienced mental illness, you have a mental health profile — just as everyone has a physical health profile. You have fears and emotions. Your confidence fluctuates. You have thoughts. These are all aspects of mental health; aspects you need to consider if they are preventing you from living the life you want.

Life doesn’t stop when you have a mental illness, even if it often feels like it has stopped. Viewing your mental health as part of your challenge/s reminds you that mental illness is a part of your life, not its whole. One of my challenges is building a freelance writing career while coping with depression and anxiety. Note that my challenge is not to cope with depression and anxiety and then build a freelance writing career. I can’t put my life on hold — I have tried to put it on hold before and it doesn’t work!

Trying to cure your mental illness before striving towards other goals is a sign that you are thinking of your mental illness as a problem, not a challenge. Start with small goals: one of my past challenges was to shower and eat proper meals despite feeling depressed. A challenge I recently overcame, taking my dog for a walk on my own, seems small to most people but was a big deal for me. Your challenges are unique to you.

It’s all about shifting your perspective.

When you have mental health issues, it’s difficult to see past them. Reframing your problems as challenges helps you to see that moving past them is a possibility. Even if it feels like a very distant possibility, the shift in how you think still makes a difference. Your attitude will gradually change simply because you are aware of this possibility.

After all, hope is intrinsic to challenges.