Accepting What You Can’t Control

wooden puppet and hand - accepting control

There’s no denying that things are really difficult right now. 2020 has been a challenging year. With the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn we have all felt overwhelmed, upset or even angry about it all. Here’s what we sometimes forget though, and it’s brutal but it is the truth: there are just some things in life you can’t control. The reality is, most of the big things that happen in our lives, we have absolutely no control over… and this can make us very uncomfortable.

The problem with control

There are two issues with control:

1) People believe they have it when they don’t, and

2) They realize they don’t have control and then become stressed about this lack of control.

With the first issue, what tends to happen is you believe that if you control every tiny aspect of your life, then nothing bad could possibly happen. Deep down you know that this is impossible. Still… there’s that tiny annoying voice in your head that keeps telling you “if I could just make sure of this…then that won’t happen”.

What a horrible amount of pressure for just one person!

Then, with this pressure comes fear and guilt. Fear that if you miss something, if you don’t control something or someone just perfectly, everything will fall apart. Then the guilt emerges later, because something is bound not to go to plan and things in life go wrong all the time. So of course, you attribute this to the belief that you didn’t control for everything, you must have missed something. Not only does this have huge negative impacts on your own mental health, you can guess that it wouldn’t do your relationships any favors.

With the second issue, you might realize you are only a small piece in the massive game of life, but this only makes you feel worse! All you do is spend all your time worrying, fretting about the bad things that could happen. Amongst all the worry, you forget to yourself, you become so preoccupied with all that fear that you forget to actually enjoy life.

Whether you are the first type of person, or the second, neither is fun or good for your emotional well-being. So how do you accept what you can’t control and cope with change?

1. Let the reigns go

You might not be able to control COVID-19, or whether you get it. You might not be able to control losing your job due to the company closing. But you can control something. You can’t control the behavior of others, you can’t control the weather, natural disasters (or pandemics for that case) BUT you CAN CONTROL how you prepare for and react to these situations. Once you recognize the things that are out of your control, it removes the pressure of all that responsibility you’ve been carrying.

Doesn’t that feel better?

Now you’ll have so much more mental space and energy to focus on the things you can control.

2. Use your energy wisely

When it comes to trying to get things to go a certain way, as we’ve discussed, there’s only so much that you can do. Focus on how your behaviour can influence the situation or how your reaction to the situation can influence how you recover from it or feel about it. For example, at the end of the day, you can’t ensure you will never get sick. However, you alter your behaviour and take all appropriate, medically recommended measures to stay healthy (such as get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and take vitamins). You may still get sick, but at least you know that you’ve done everything in your control to avoid this. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you relieve any pressure and guilt you might have been experiencing for “letting yourself get sick”.

It’s the same principle with people. If you want them to act in a particular way, it’s really up to them. You can’t force them to do something. All you can do is control your own behaviour and hope that they will be motivated by it.

3. Solve issues, don’t marinate in them

One of the things humans tend to do that causes a significant amount of angst is ruminate (or as I like to call it, marinate). Rumination is when you go over a thought, a worry or a replay of a situation repeatedly in your mind. We often do this when we are stressed and trying to resolve what’s causing that stress. But rumination is not problem solving and there’s a big problem with this. In the same way that a steak marinating overnight will pick up all the delicious juices in the bowl, your brain is picking up all the little issues, potential problems and stress associated with the thoughts you are ruminating on. So, all it does is make you more stressed!

If you notice yourself getting stuck on something and simply replaying it over and over, take a mental break. Try and recognize that this type of thinking is not helpful and focus on something else for a while. You can always come back to the thought later when you might have more capacity to tease it out and find a solution. Or better yet, you might be able to talk to someone else about it to help you sort through it.

4. Find your stress relief

Identify some ways you can manage your stress before you get stressed. The idea of this is that when the big stuff comes up (and we know it will, because remember… you can’t control everything) you already have a huge toolkit of stress-relief options. Now we are not talking about the type of stress relief options you buy at a bar. These are easily accessible, free techniques you can do yourself every day to keep yourself in good spirits and balanced. (Check out a few here) Examples might include exercise, eating well, having good social connections, talking to friends and family, spending time doing things you enjoy, meditating engaging in a hobby and getting enough sleep.

By following these steps, you should be able to start to accept what is out of your control and enjoy life again The most important thing is that you remember that you can’t control everything and focus on the things that you can control. If you’d like further guidance around this, set up a session with one of our Therapists and they’ll be happy to help you out.