More often than not, when we find ourselves in a situation where we have no control, stress and anxiety run high.
Think about the current COVID Pandemic we’re all in. We have no control over going in and out of lockdown and it can feel extremely stressful.
Or having a baby; we often have very little control over how much sleep we get with a newborn, how often we get to shower or eat, or how often we get time to ourselves. It’s stressful!
So how do we control these situations? Well, the truth is that we can’t.
We can’t control all elements of a situation, but by focusing on the things we CAN control, such as our physical reactions, our thoughts and our behaviour, we can help ease feelings of worry, stress and anxiety.
Here are my top tips for reducing stress and anxiety by identifying what we can control in uncontrollable stressful situations:
1. Be honest with yourself and accept that the situation has occurred and that you can’t control all aspects of it.
2. Acknowledge the emotions that you are feeling, and allow yourself to feel them. It’s important to give yourself this window of time to feel what you’re feeling because repressing these emotions usually leads to feeling helpless. When you acknowledge and own what you are feeling you are in a way taking back some control, moving away from being a helpless victim and starting to take action.
3. Identify what you can control. With practice, you can learn to control your physical and cognitive responses to stress, therefore putting an end to the negative feedback loop. Things that can help control physical reactions to stress are meditation/mindfulness, breathwork, exercise/movement or creative activities. You can learn to change the way you think (cognition) through strategies such as thought challenging (where is the evidence for/against this worrying thought?) or structured problem-solving.
4. Remind yourself that the situation is not permanent and it will pass. You could even make this a mantra to go with breathwork.
5. Try not to fixate or ruminate on reasons for the situation occurring, or what it would have been like if it didn’t happen.
6. You have control over how much media you are exposed to. Sometimes, too much information on a situation, such as the news or stories on social media can increase stress and anxiety levels. If you find certain accounts or platforms triggering, turn off notifications for them or unfollow temporarily.
7. Practice gratitude regularly. A reminder of what we have and what we are grateful for gives us a sense of control and reminds us what we HAVE. It’s like counting the coins in your gratitude piggy bank. It can’t be taken away from you, it’s yours and that’s powerful stuff. Studies have shown that regular gratitude practice decreases repetitive negative thinking and worry (Heckendorf, et. al. 2019. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 119).
8. Reach out for support either from family, friends or professionals.
Regardless of how big or out of our control a situation is, there are always elements that are within our control and can help to reduce feelings of stress, worry and anxiety. If you’d like further support with your mental health or would just like to learn more about practical skills in reducing anxiety, the following services may be helpful:
Louise runs Strong Mums in Gosford, NSW. She has a background in clinical and research psychology and became a mums’ fitness professional after having her first baby.
To find out more about her and get in touch, click here.