A great struggle we face as humans is how to let go of things we’re unable to control. We’ve been taught that letting go of control goes directly against our modernized, industrialized way of living — after all, we always strive to remain the architects of our destiny. That’s what I learned growing up from teachers, magazines, songs, movies and so on, at least. My DNA simply did not allow things to merely happen on their own — I had never been one to sit back and passively let life do its thing, and that kind of free-spirited, carefree mindset never played a role in my life. Over the years, my perspective significantly shifted — for the better. I’ve learned how freeing it is to let go of control, or at least understand and accept that there’s only so much we’re able to control in our lives.
I’ve realized more and more that there will always be aspects of my life that are completely out of my control — and that’s a-okay. I honestly feel like adapting to a “go with the flow” mentality and taking things as they come are some of the most undervalued traits around. I’ve always been that person who constantly makes lists, keeps a weekly agenda and needs to just know things. From something as routine as being cut off on the road to something unexpected being thrown our way to something as difficult as losing a relationship, life is full of difficult happenings we simply cannot control. No matter what these uncontrollable occurrences are, the larger question is how to effectively handle something we can’t change. Focus for a moment on what I like to think of as “the story,” or, our interpretation of what has just happened. In these circumstances, everyone tells themselves a story of some sort — “I hate driving. I clearly don’t belong on the road; I got cut off because I was driving too slow,” or, “I’m just really unlucky and shit is always being thrown my way,” or, “I lost them because I don’t deserve anything good in life; I can’t do anything right.” The first step in dealing with these types of situations that are beyond our control is to pay close attention to what narrative we’re creating for ourselves and life.
To put it simply, life happens. Challenges come up that we not only didn’t see coming and did absolutely nothing wrong to deserve, but also have no control to stop! It’s pretty common to lose sight of our logic, rationale and sense of who we are when life throws us an unpleasant curve ball. We may go into superhero mode and try to save the day, or, worse and oftentimes more likely, obsessively analyze what happened while the rest of our lives get neglected. The result? More anxiety and stress that we can handle, perhaps even falling into an unhealthy mental state. Now we not only have a bad situation on our hands, but all the side effects that it brings, including tension, mood swings, discontent with life, possible depression, loss of interest in things you once loved, sleeplessness — the list goes on.
While it’s difficult to avoid the natural human tendency to react, what we can do is reference approaches — healthy reactions — that can keep us from getting stuck in our stress response. This way, we can move through anything that may come our way while coming out the other side in one piece.
- Do a 180 with your focus by placing your attention on what is in front of you right now. If we tend to worry too much about what might be, and wonder too long about what might have been, we’ll likely ignore and completely miss what is. Worrying about what we can’t control in the moment is a great misuse of our time and creative energy. Instead of imagining the worst — whether about events of the past or the future — imagine the best of what you have now and how you can continue to bring it out. Most of our anxieties are over things we can’t change (the past) or things we can’t predict (the future). By putting our focus on what’s in front of us right this moment, we can hear our thoughts and be in tune with our feelings more clearly, make choices that suit us better and create the healthy headspace to make wiser decisions that result in more positive outcomes moving forward. Most of our stress comes directly from the way we think and respond — not the way life is. Being mindful and adjusting our attitude will help us let go and move on. Just try to not let go of what you know is good just because your mind is temporarily fogged with negative thoughts.
- Get rid of your inner victim. When life becomes overwhelming, it often feels easier to just step back and assume we can’t do anything to feel better. We might even push people away that are otherwise good for us, ones who could even help us during a difficult time. This is a form of victim mode, where you give up your power and stop trying to think of how to rationally cope with what’s happening. Falling into the victim trap often happens when we tell ourselves that everything is fine and/or choose to feel sorry for ourselves, instead of processing and facing our feelings of being vulnerable. It truly helps to face our feelings instead of repress them — if you worry that facing the situation head-on will overwhelm you even more, consider finding a stress support group, going to a therapist or venting to a close friend or family member. Remember: we have the power to choose our next step(s) even if we can’t change the one(s) that came before.
- Be honest — on paper. When we’re under stress, it can be very therapeutic to talk things through with our friends and loved ones. But if you’re not the type of person who finds this helpful, you fall right into the victim trap or you’re influenced by the way others around you think you should deal with your situation, you will lose sight of your own instincts. Writing things down on paper can be an incredibly beneficial way to gain clarity and keep the thoughts in your mind honest and straightforward. It’s as if the process of moving our thoughts from mind to hand make it harder for us to lie to ourselves.
- Identify and be honest with your fears. Do you find yourself predicting catastrophic outcomes or doubting your ability to cope with an undesirable one? Usually, the worst case scenario isn’t as terrible as you might imagine. Quite often, people are thinking, “this is going to be awful,” or “there’s no point in trying, I’ll just push it away until it’s erased from my life,” that they forget to take the time to ask themselves, “what would I do if the worst case scenario did come true?” or “what would happen if I did face my fears, anxiety, negative thoughts, etc.? Perhaps we’d struggle for a bit — ok, or a lot — but there’s also a great chance we’re mentally strong enough to get right back up again, and I think that’s a great risk to take! Acknowledging that we can handle anything troubling that may come our way can help us put our energy into more productive places.
- Create a stress management plan. Whether life is going grand or you’re going through some rollercoasters, stress management strategies are essential to performing at your peak — in every part of your life. Exercising, eating well, taking time to enjoy your hobbies and getting plenty of sleep are just a few key things we need to do in order to take care of ourselves. We’re just human beans, not superheroes! It’s very helpful to schedule ample time to engage in healthy stress relievers. Whether you enjoy yoga, want to get together with friends who bring positivity to your life or partake in activities like painting, biking or knitting, make time for them (even <30min!) regardless of how busy you are.
- Develop healthy mottos. Scientists estimate people have about 70,000 thoughts per day (!!! I know, that triggers my anxiety, too), and many of those thoughts can provoke feelings of self-doubt, fear and discouragement. By keeping a few positive, healthy affirmations on hand, we can help combat negative thinking. Whether you remind yourself, “I’m stronger than I think,” or, “I know I can handle this,” or “I am more than what my anxiety is trying to control,” your affirmations can help drown out negative energy. With practice, we can train our brains to think differently — more positively — and we’ll begin to accept that while we aren’t able to control life’s events from happening, we can always control how we react to them.
The bottom line is, there’s so much in life that’s beyond our control that ends up keeping us up at night, resulting in making us feel anxious and sleep deprived. I hope with these tips, you can better cope with life’s struggles and be on your way to a more positive path that you deserve.
Disclaimer: This post was originally published in June 2018 on my other website, Panache Offblast, which is no longer active. I’ve made slight adjustments.