How to Deal With the Uncontrollable

Identify the Uncontrollable:

All you have to do these days is turn on CNN to realize how out of control the world is.

First there are the big things — war, terrorism, famine, political gridlock. But then there are the smaller things that are out of your control, ranging from the weather to your job to your son or daughter. And if you’re a controlling person — someone who has to have everything just so, in its right place in just the right way — then feeling out of control is one of the most stressful things that could ever happen to you.

There are some golden rule of life hasn’t changed, and never will: Stuff happens. Much of it you can’t control. What you can control is how you react to it and how much it affects you physically, financially, or otherwise. Here are some ways to gain back a bit of control when you feel like your world is spinning off its axis:

1. Above all else, distinguish what you can’t control from what you can. Then direct your energies to influencing the latter, and accepting the former. This might sound simplistic, but you’d be amazed at how many people still think they can control traffic, or the weather, or their boss’s mood, or the stock market. Make a list of all the things in your life that you can’t control, no matter how hard you try, and post it on your refrigerator and your computer. Then accept it. Of course you can care about these things, and try to influence their outcome. But it’s essential that you untie your emotional well-being from those things you cannot alter.

2. When things feel out of control, clean a closet or drawer. It worked for therapist Rebecca Fuller Ward, author of How to Stay Married Without Going Crazy. The night her mother had a heart attack, she cleaned out her pantry. “That I could control,” she says.

3. Take up a new hobby. Mastering a new skill, whether it’s paddling a kayak or learning to knit, will return a sense of control to your life.

4. When bad things happen, sit down and write out what you might have done differently. This self-assessment is not to blame and beat up on yourself; it’s a chance to say, I may not control everything, but I do control me! What can I do with me that will make this situation work better and turn out more to my liking? So, if you get a bad evaluation at work, don’t respond to it by blaming your boss or blaming your bad luck. Instead, says Patricia Farrell, Ph.D., author of How to Be Your Own Therapist, be honest with yourself about what you could have done differently that year — come into work on time, met all your deadlines, etc. — to garner a better result. Understanding your role in the situation will help you realize that the world actually is a fairly controllable place.

5. When things feel out of control, pick one thing in your life to work on that you can make a difference in. For instance, start an exercise program, write in your journal one day a week, balance your checkbook, or take your car in for an oil change.

6. Build in contingencies. For instance, say you have an outdoor party planned for 20 people but a tropical storm hits the day of the party. Well, while you can’t control the weather, you can control where you hold it (move it inside), when you hold it (postpone it), and how it’s held (if you were planning a cookout, whip up a couple of big lasagnas).

7. Make a list. Nothing puts more control back into your hands than taking all the “to dos” swirling through your head and writing them down. Now make a plan for how you will accomplish each one. For instance, if one of the things on your list is Christmas shopping, set a date, a time, and a time limit to go shopping. If one of the things on your list is to clean the house, break it into manageable parts. So on Monday you clean the kitchen, on Tuesday the bathrooms, and so on.

8. Build up tolerance to chaos by giving yourself small out-of-control experiences. For instance, if you typically are the lead driver of the family car, have your spouse take the wheel next time you all go out together, suggests Larina Kase, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Center for Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania. Ask someone to interrupt you periodically, have your partner make the weekend plans without your input, turn over the bill paying to your partner. These will help you learn to accept being out of control.

9. Practice positive self-talk. It would be great if someone else did this for you, but often you have to do it for yourself, says Dr. Farrell. Self-talk means saying things like, “I’m going to be okay,” “I’ll get through this,” or “Right now, I have to give myself a few minutes and then I can begin coming up with a plan to handle this.”

10. Take time to de-stress before addressing the maelstrom. Put your feet up, do some relaxation breathing, have a cup of tea. Calming yourself down is one area in which you do have control, notes Dr. Farrell.

11. Create a perception that you have control. There is a good deal of research showing that the perception of control is more important than actual control, says Dr. Kase. For instance, people are able to tolerate a hot room if they know they have the option of turning down the heat. Come up with some little things that you can do to make out-of-control situations more manageable.

12. Iron something. Ironing is a relatively mindless activity that still provides very visible results. The sense of control you gain as you turn a crumpled ball of fabric into a crisp garment will carry over into other areas of your life, promise!

13. Focus on what you’re doing, not the outcome. You can often control the specific task or motion, but you can’t always control the outcome. Just consider baseball slugger Mark McGwire, says Michael Crabtree, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania. “He was just a .200 hitter with the Oakland A’s because he was focused on his low batting average and hitting home runs — not on just swinging the bat. When he started focusing on that, it changed his whole approach and he became a much better hitter,” Dr. Crabtree says.

From: Stealth Health

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