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Home / Advice / Anxiety / Coping with things out of your control

Coping with things out of your control

By: Shauna Gavin

Updated: 25 March 2020

Coping with things out of your control

Life is one big vast series of events that just keeps coming at us, year after year. Some of the events such as deciding what course to take in college, where you want to live and whether or not you want to own a pet are things that are definitely in your control. Many, many things in life are, however, completely out of our control. You cannot plan who you will fall in love with, whether someone will get sick or die or black swan events like the current COVID-19 pandemic. The uncertainty and unpredictability of these potential situations can cause many people with underlying anxiety conditions additional and undue stress and worry. If you notice yourself trying to counter those with trying to control everything in your life, here are some ways that you can cope with this.

  1. Learn how to differentiate between the things you can and can’t control

Anxiety uses up our emotional energy and when you worry about absolutely everything, chances are you won’t be able to put much effort into doing much at all. Anxiety negatively affects our motivation, creativity and ability to focus and think straight. This is where determining what is and isn’t in your control can be so useful. Worrying is not useful in any way: it is a type of repetitive negative thinking, where you get stuck or trapped in negative thoughts circles about bad things which can happen in the future. Your job performance? Within your control. A global pandemic? Very much not within your control. When you utilise this anxious energy to work towards genuinely attainable goals, this will stand to you much more than worrying about things that you realistically can’t do anything about.

  1. Learn how to change your brain’s channel from ruminating to problem solving

If you were to think of your brain like a TV with different channels, the stations of ruminating and problem solving would both have a much different theme. The ruminating channel would involve a lot of negative interactions being replayed unhelpfully over and over and imagining the worst possible outcomes to any situation. The problem solving channel would utilise this anxious energy in a much more efficient manner and would actually actively work towards a resolution. Swapping between the two can be difficult, especially when you are in an anxious spiral so recognising the signs of these spirals and becoming mindful of your anxiety is crucial to learning how to do this. Counselling and psychotherapy can help with this

  1. What are you afraid of?

Feeling afraid is inevitable and it's a natural part of being a human. Fear is a survival instinct and when it occurs in response to a dangerous situation it can save your life. Believe it or not anxiety can also be useful. Provided it is experienced in a measured way before less dangerous situations, for example an important interview. It does become a problem though when it is out of proportion to the situation where there is no actual threat or danger. We tend to imagine the worst case scenario and overestimate the likelihood of it happening. Good news is: it's usually never as bad as you actually think it will be. Becoming aware of your worst fear and shifting your way of thinking into reassuring yourself that you can handle the actual situation can help you turn your anxious energy in a positive manner. Knowing that you can handle this worst case scenario can help calm your anxiety and help you to use your anxious energy in a positive manner. 

  1. Healthy affirmations are essential

Having some small phrases that you can use to calm yourself is essential for coping with anxiety induced from feeling like you are not in control. Something along the lines of “I am in control of myself and I am safe” or “I can deal with this and even if I can’t all will be fine” would be an example of a healthy affirmation. This will also shift your focus from worrying to actually thinking about your resources and will ground you in your strengths. As mentioned before, it is hard to think straight when you're anxious, so have those written down somewhere for easy access at the time of need. You can also record your own voice saying those sentences and play it back whenever you want. Some people prefer breathing exercises. Practicing these affirmations during times of high anxiety can help you take your power back when your anxiety is high.

  1. Plan out how to manage your stress

You will want to manage your stress through healthy coping mechanisms in order to be in better control of your anxiety. Eating healthily, socialising with friends and family and practicing your hobbies are great ways of doing this. Exercise, in particular, is great for physically working the nervous energy out of your body. Another very helpful way is also journalling. This will not only serve as a release when you feel particularly anxious but also will allow you to look back through your entries and give you some perspective and reassurance that very little of the things that you worried about have actually happened. Try to avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol and drugs when managing your stress levels.            

  1. Learn to accept it

So you put all this effort in and you still sometimes feel out of control? Don’t be so hard on yourself as this is completely normal. The last step can be to learn how to tolerate those feelings instead of acting on them. First step on your way of accepting it is to become aware of what is happening for you, in your body and in your mind. Do not take action and do not respond immediately. Just be curious about your experience. Then think to yourself: what can help you to let go of your need for control? Visualize it floating away as a balloon or a soap bubble for example. Then become aware of the present situation. What is happening for you now, in this moment in time? Calm down your breathing, use positive affirmation and remember: you will get through this!


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