We all have times in our lives when things feel chaotic; when it feels like everything that is important in our lives is outside of our control and we cannot improve our plight. The typical reaction to this situation is to exert more effort directed at changing things that are outside of our control, followed by an increase in our stress. Obviously, this is an ineffective strategy, yet it is one that we almost instinctively attempt. So instead of running on that hamster wheel, what else can you do?
Everyone needs a sense of control in their lives. Everyone also needs a healthy balance of exercising control and letting go of things beyond their control. Given that the number of things within our control pales in comparison to the number of things outside of our control, our efforts to let go should far outweigh our efforts to control. Here are some simple ways to reduce your stress in a chaotic situation through a combination of letting go and exercising control.
1. Identify the stressful elements of your situation that are outside of your control (you might need a pen and a thick legal pad to list them all).
2. Acknowledge your emotional reaction to those elements and share those feelings with someone else (not to have them fix or change your feelings, only to validate them).
3. At the top of that list, write in bold letters, “Do Not Attempt to Control.”
4. Now turn your attention to what you can control.
1. Identify the things in your situation that you have control over (you might need a pen and a sticky note) – these usually include actions you can take; directed inward at yourself or outward at others.
2. Exercise some control in these areas.
3. Notice how taking actions effects how you feel about yourself and your situation.
Then, repeat often.
Shawn Healy, PhD