“All suffering is equal.”

The health professional who said this to me told me that she treated one woman who was afraid of flying because her husband’s plane was shot down during WWII and another with the same phobia because a plane had flown overhead when a group of kids picked on her when she was young. To her, both were equally valid and deserved the same treatment.

We like to make fun of so-called first-world problems, but some psychologists suggest being easier on ourselves.

We sometimes have trouble judging the severity of our problems because a mental burden is a mental burden. Whether it is serious or seemingly trivial, a worry still occupies your mind, putting your working memory at risk of being overwhelmed. And although technology and a higher standard of living have decreased mental burden in many ways, we face a host of new concerns and distractions, including sources of chronic stress.

What may help is that most of what we consider first-world problems are easier to reframe or solve, so unlike chronic worries that come with living in poverty, for example, many problems are transient, and people in higher-income countries are more likely to have the resources to offload some of their mental burden by paying for relief. That said, the fact that we have fewer problems in general mean that we haven’t developed the schemata to solve them efficiently.

But trying to shame people into reframing (as in “Others have it way worse”) basically never works. Proposing actual solutions or compassionate suggestions for reframing might.

Let’s be real: I’ll still laugh at “world’s smallest violin” jokes. Sometimes people complain about their problems just to vent (or whine!) and not to solicit solutions. But while a person believes they have a problem, it is a mental burden for them.

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