Putting Your Problems on the Table

Understanding how symptoms manifest and play out in our lives is key to confronting and conquering your problems. When everything is going smoothly, we tend to feel good, think positively and we make healthy choices in our daily lives. But when we are overwhelmed, in pain, struggling with bad behaviours, or stuck in negative patterns of negative thoughts and self-limiting beliefs, our lives can seem unmanageable, out of control, and hopeless.

We all experience times when we feel stuck and overwhelmed, as if life is spinning out of control. During challenging times, we struggle to understand what’s happening and find ourselves at a complete loss as to how to deal with our problems. Canadian clinical psychologist Dr. Monica Vermani shares the tried and true approach to understanding and dealing with problems she has shared with her clients for decades… and it starts with a willingness to put your problems on the table.

There is a disarmingly simple way to achieve clarity, build awareness, and find a way forward when we are confused, and at a loss as to how to deal with our problems and symptoms… by putting them on a three-legged table.

Putting Your Problems on the Table

Problems show up in three distinct ways

Why three legs? I use a three-legged table because our problems manifest and play out in our lives in three distinct ways: problematic physical/physiological symptoms, negative cognitions/thoughts, and maladaptive behaviours, choices, and habits.

First, and perhaps the easiest category of symptoms for us to recognize, our problems can show up as physical or physiological symptoms, like headaches, muscle aches, weakness, tingling, abdominal distress (constipation/diarrhea), nausea, fatigue, eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little, heart palpitations, anxiety, concentration, or memory problems, racing mind, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, moodiness, panic attacks, and more, simply anything we feel in our body.

Next, and somewhat less simple to identify as problematic, our problems can also manifest as negative, unhealthy thoughts or cognitions, and self-limiting beliefs/narratives. We internalize past hurts and negative beliefs about how the world works, and of our sense of worth in the world. Negative thoughts can lead to low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, feeling unworthy/undeserving and negative thoughts about our abilities, relationships, the world, and opportunities.

Last, by no means least, and perhaps the most difficult to identify and own up to, our problems also manifest and play out as unhealthy behaviours, habits, and choices. From relying on food, alcohol, and/or drugs to numb physical symptoms or escape negative thoughts, to angry outbursts, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-harm, inflicting or tolerating abuse, mismanaging money, out-of-control gambling, shopping, or thrill-seeking, staying in a job we dislike and many more unhealthy choices.

Putting Your Problems on the Table

Putting the three-legged table to use

Using the schematic three-legged table, begin by naming your problem and placing it on the top of the table. Next, think about, identify, and list your symptoms under the appropriate leg. Next, look at what you have written. Reflect on how your negative thoughts and self-limiting beliefs may play into choices to numb, rather than sit with negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself. Consider how your negative thoughts, choices, and behaviours have contributed to your problematic physical symptoms.

Here’s the good news: at this stage, you’ve already cleared the first hurdle, as the first step to creating positive change is building awareness.

Next step: addressing symptoms

There are plenty of actions we can take to help ourselves. We can start an exercise regime, confide in a close friend, colleague, or family member, focus on quality self-care and spend time doing activities that bring us joy, and seeking medical or psychological support.

Most of us are familiar with what to do about our troubling physical symptoms. We see a doctor, who provides symptom management and treatment. That takes care of one of the three legs. But when we treat just one of these legs while ignoring the other two, we perpetuate the negative forces at play. The challenge is to deal with symptoms in each category. Just as our physical symptoms require support, our negative thoughts and maladaptive behaviours may require the support of a mental health professional.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for example, breaks maladaptive thoughts and behaviours and affects positive change by challenging and reframing the cognitive distortions and thoughts we hold onto and shifting maladaptive behaviours and habits to healthier, more adaptive ones.

You owe it to yourself

You owe it to yourself to pay attention to your symptoms and create positive change where change is needed. The first step to positive change is awareness, and the three-legged table process leads to a deeper understanding of the thoughts, behaviours, and physical symptoms of your life. With this awareness, you can begin to create positive changes by addressing your problems head-on.

Putting the three-legged table to use

List your problematic negative thoughts, behaviours, and troublesome physical/physiological symptoms … the first step to treatment is awareness of symptoms

Think about the areas of your life where you would like to create positive change.

Bring in resources you need to address and treat your physical symptoms, problematic thoughts, and behaviours… take small steps to move forward to your betterment and ensure success this way!


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One of Canada’s highest-rated clinical psychologists, Dr. Monica Vermani is a public speaker, teacher, and author in the field of mental health and wellness. In her private practice, Dr. Vermani provides a multi-faceted treatment approach in treating adolescents and adults suffering from trauma/abuse, mood, anxiety, substance addictions, and other related conditions and disorders, as well as family and couples therapy.

Dr. Vermani believes that good mental health doesn’t just happen, that it deserves the same time, attention, understanding, and effort as our physical wellbeing. Drawing from her 25 years of clinical practice, she takes readers through the same tried and true multi-disciplinary approach to treatment that has been successful in creating incremental, meaningful change for hundreds of patients and groups.

Check out Dr. Monica Vermani’s newest book, A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas, and learn more at www.drmonicavermani.com.

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