How Big is Your Problem?

No matter what our age, we are all faced with problems on a daily basis.  Our problems come in a variety of shapes and sizes: big, small, immediate, not immediate, and so on.  Most of the time these problems come and go and we adjust to meet the situation.  However, depending on the day, sometimes these smaller problems can be blown completely out of proportion and derail us for several hours, the remainder of the day, or even longer.


So, how big is the problem you are currently facing?  Humans are blessed with a highly sophisticated brain which often works in our favor, and occasionally works against us.  Housed within our brains are a group of cognitive skills called executive functions.  These functions provide us with self-regulation and self-management skills.  When faced with a problem, our brains can regulate our emotional and behavioral responses.  However, when our brains interpret the problem as a threat, we often become emotionally flooded and “make a mountain out of a molehill.”  The ADHD brain is more prone to becoming emotionally flooded due to challenges with the executive functions and the ability to keep events from collapsing on themselves and feeling like a giant problem.  The ADHD brain is also more sensitive to environmental stimuli, which depletes the energy in the brain’s fuel tank more quickly.  This depletion of “thinking energy” makes it hard to see the size of the problem you are faced with.  Of course, some problems are actually big and deserve a bigger response.  The key is to keep the size of the problem in check.  It is important that we have a realistic measurement of how big our problems truly are.


What can you do to respond appropriately to problems?

  1. Practice self-care: self-care is essential for coping with problems. A tired body is often not equipped to handle problems of any size.  A rested body is more able to clearly see the scope of the situation.
  2. Be mindful: take a pause and notice what is going on. Notice how your body feels, how your brain feels and the messages you are telling yourself.
  3. Do a brain dump: write down all the thoughts in your head so that you are able to see them more clearly.
  4. Define the size of your problem: Is this problem as big as you are making it? Putting some perspective into the situation is important, “Is my reaction to this problem in alignment to the size of my problem?” (For kids you can use a chart with colors and pictures to help them define the size of their problem.  For more information click here Social Thinking).
  5. Reframe your problem: see your problem as an opportunity, rather than a failure or punishment.


Hopefully, with each challenge we take a golden nugget forward when we face the next problem.  For example, showing up late to an appointment because I tried to do “just one more thing” before I left the house.  I could beat myself up and let being late derail me for the rest of the day.  Or, I could acknowledge that I tried to fit too much in before leaving the house, and next time I can build a buffer of 15 minutes into my schedule. So instead of working right up until the last minute, I can set a reminder for 15 minutes before I need to go so I can get myself ready to leave the house on time.


Problems are part of life and provide us with many opportunities for growth.  The key is to be able to see the size of your problems accurately, so that you are able to respond in an appropriate way. If you need help defining your problem or creating strategies to help manage your problems, please contact me.

Kristine (Shiverick) Kaufmann
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