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Problem solving

If you’re worried about something, sometimes it becomes much less frightening if you can break that thing down into smaller, more manageable pieces. One way to do that is to start by listing all the possible outcomes, even the bad ones. For example, if you’re feeling worried because you don’t understand a subject or know how to prepare for the exam, you could write down these potential outcomes:

  • Don’t revise for the exam

  • Try to figure out the work alone

  • Ask a teacher or friend for help

The second step would be to list the pros and cons of each solution:

Not revising

Pros: no need to do anything

Cons: might fail the exam

Figuring it out alone:

Pros: can start right away

Cons: might be too difficult or make things worse

Ask a teacher or friend for help:

Pros: someone to explain it, so a better chance of passing

Cons: waiting for when they can help

The third step would be to choose the most practical solution. In this example, it looks like the last option has the best chances of success.

Once you’ve decided on a solution or a combination of the solutions, the fourth step is making a plan to carry it out – could you text or call your friend now? Could you ask your teacher for help when you next see them at school? Perhaps it would help to write yourself a reminder to do that.

The fifth step would involve recording your progress, reviewing your plans, and feeling good about your efforts. If you’ve put a plan in place, such as asking a teacher to help you study, it might help you to feel less worried about the exam, because you know that you have will have more support and resources available to you soon. These steps are based around BBC Health’s ‘structured problem solving’ worksheet, which you can use as a template:

In the following video, Cyra Neave, Senior Clinician for the Centre's Schools Outreach team, provides a structure for you to start problem solving:

There isn’t much academic research in the area of self-care for young people who are living with mental health issues. We are trying to find out more about what works for different people so we can better advise other young people what to try.

If you’ve tried this activity when you were struggling in relation to your mental health, please let us know if it helped you and how by clicking on the ‘Did this activity help you’ button.