Dealing With Stress and Anxiety From Things Outside Of Your Control
"This week was ROUGH! Thank God it's over, tomorrow is a brand new day with a fresh start." you say to yourself as you hit the lights and try to relax as the melatonin kicks in and you drift peacefully off to sleep.
It's Monday morning now, you went to bed early, so you wake up naturally with the sunrise and take some quiet time for yourself before leisurely strolling out the door for work.
"Oh yeah, this is going to be a great week!"
2:37pm, you get a call out of the blue. It's your uncle—he's just been diagnosed with an illness.
Wednesday, 11:14am, an email hits your inbox from your supervisor—she wants to have a conversation about payroll cuts and your job security. Rent is due soon.
Saturday, 8:42pm, your best friend texts you—"Can you talk? It's serious."
Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you try to stay positive, get excited for the future, and enjoy life, there's always something waiting around the corner to punch you right in the face?
It's like trying to race the 500m with rocks tied to your ankles. Forget winning, you're just trying to keep water out of your lungs.
How do we deal with the overwhelming stress and anxiety caused by things outside of our control so we can actually function, and maybe even thrive(!), in our every day lives?
[Author's note: Speaking of uncontrollable events, I had this entire article almost complete when I accidentally hit the delete button :) So that was fun. Now I'm having to practice what I preach!]
Here are a few practical things you can do to ease the chemical warfare going on in your brain, and proceed as gracefully as possible through uncontrollable struggle.
Recognize you can't control it, and stop trying to
You're a control freak, admit it. So am I. We all are. The reason we feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, and worried about things we can't control is because we want these problems to not be problems anymore.
We don't like the uncertainty of the situations, and we feel like if we could just control it, we could fix it. And you know what? Maybe we could, but the reality is that we can't control what other people do or think.
We can't control how the stars align so that everything irons out perfectly smooth. And we don't like that, because these situations can cause a lot of pain.
There are some things we can influence, sure, and we can do that, but we need to be wise enough to recognize the difference between influence and control so that once we've done what we can do, we can let it go.
If the worst case scenario happens, what's the point in living through it in your brain beforehand? It's better to let go of what we can't control, and respond the best we can.
Take ownership of your response
As much as we would all like it if life was fair, we know it's not most of the time. It's a real buzzkill sometimes. Since we've already come to terms with the fact that we can't control everything, let's take ownership and responsibility for what we can control.
Things happen that are out of our control. Terrible things, frustrating things, things that are UNFAIR. We can’t control everything. But instead of holding onto anger, complaining, hoarding jealousy, or giving up, we can choose to respond with strength, resilience, love, joy and gratitude for the things that are ok. Positivity and love always win. Always.
CEO of Focus3, Brian Kight, teaches a very useful formula for dealing with uncontrollable events in our lives; E+R=O.
Event + Response = Outcome
He says we can't control events that happen to us, and we also can't control the outcomes of those events, but what we can control is our response, and ultimately that's what can influence the outcomes for the best shot at a positive one, but we can't force control.
Take ownership of your response, and you'll feel some of the overwhelm start to ease.
Calm the stress and anxiety in your brain and body
When we experience uncontrollable events, there are physical and biological changes that happen in our brains and bodies as coping mechanisms to try to protect us from danger. A lot of it is a primal response that we don't need all the time, unless of course, we're actually in danger.
You might notice you have a hard time focusing on what you're supposed to be doing at work, you're preoccupied, and you can't stop your mind from playing worst-case-scenario stories over and and over in your head like a bad movie you can't escape.
Your body might tense up and cause muscle soreness and stiffness. Sleep becomes almost impossible because your brain won't relax.
These are normal responses, but they're not ones we need to just accept and live with. A few things you can do to calm these responses are:
- Take 6 deep breaths
- Take a supplement like Deep Breath for stress and anxiety relief
- Straighten up your posture
Talk with a friend
Sometimes we need to just be heard. Try not to be the friend always unloading all of your problems on everyone, but it's perfectly ok to need to talk things out sometimes.
It can help you to articulate and process your feelings faster than keeping them bottled up inside, and decrease the chances of you negatively responding to the situation.
Plus sometimes friends have great advice.
15 seconds of gratitude
You've probably read before that practicing saying in your head or out loud things you're grateful for can decrease stress and negativity.
Well, the reality is, most of us are just plain bad at actually doing it.
Our brains are wired to jump straight to the negative; another glorious defense mechanism engrained in us. What's worse is, the more we allow our brains to do that, the faster and more frequently we trigger that response (this is science talking, not me).
The good news is, the opposite is also true, and it's not as difficult as it would seem. To combat negative thoughts, next time one pops into your head and you start feeling anxious and stressed, immediately think about something you're grateful for, and focus on it for at least 15 seconds.
In order for positive thoughts to imprint on our brains, we have to savor it for at least 15 seconds or it won't stick.
Use negative thoughts as a trigger to flip the switch on for gratitude. It will change your life.
I hope you find some of this useful, and wishing you lots of strength, resilience, and love.