Person to Person: Breaking Big Problems Into Bite-Sized Pieces

By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen Tribune News Service.

Do you have giant problems looming over you? If so, you may be in panic mode.

Situations that can really rock anyone's boat will include: losing one's home in a fire or flood, having an adult child with grandchildren move back into the nest, getting fired, being in a bad accident and coping with anything adversely affecting your health, finances and family.

In order to cope, you need a plan that will move you forward. Take small steps that do not overwhelm you.

These tips can help:

-Don't try to look too far ahead. Maybe you got fired today. Before you imagine the worst, try to stay calm and deal with your emotions only. Allow yourself time to grieve and cry. Don't rush into a job search or try to do anything heroic. Take care of yourself first.

-Take care of immediate needs. For example, instead of worrying about how you will manage your adult daughter and her three kids moving back home, focus on doing what you have to do now. This might mean turning your family room into a casual group bedroom, but try to keep an upbeat spirit for the sake of everyone.

-Be sure not to make things worse. Any of us, through griping and groaning, can destroy other people around us. If you have lost your home in a flood, try to encourage your neighbors who lost everything as well. People pick up good emotions and cling to them for hope. By putting out good vibes, you'll save your own sanity and feel more inner strength.

"Once people balance their emotions, it's amazing how fast they can recover," says a firefighter we'll call Josh. Josh told us that his worst experiences involve people who are still in panic mode days after a crisis.

"I see people who lose their homes in fires all the time," Josh told us. "I love it when someone starts calling friends or family, starts making a plan. I know if they start looking for resources, they'll be okay. If someone can't think of where to start, I help them define a survival plan."

Trying to picture the smaller steps to fixing a gigantic problem takes practice.

A friend of ours who had three major problems hit the same week decided to picture her new steps. We'll call her Jodie. Jodie lost her job, her husband was diagnosed with cancer, and her daughter Jill announced she was leaving her husband and moving back home.

"I figured out pretty quickly that having Jill back at home would be a good thing," says Jodie. "My daughter is great at being supportive, so I knew she'd help me get her dad to excellent doctors. She could also help me with a job search."

Jodie made out a list of basic steps. She helped get her daughter's belongings to a storage unit and got her daughter settled into her old bedroom. Then, she got her husband to his initial appointments at his oncologist's office.

"It wasn't easy to keep going, believe me," says Jodie. "But my husband is now making good progress with his treatments, and my daughter's divorce is going amicably. As far as a job for me, I am working part-time at the hospital where my daughter works. My advice is: Just worry about the next two or three steps. Keep going and pace yourself. You can work through anything this way." ___ (Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe, Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)

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