What to Do When Things Feel Out of Control
Sometimes it can seem like there is stress coming from every direction. And lately, watching the news can easily become overwhelming. In times when fear begins to take hold of us or our world starts to feel out of control, it is important to do things that can calm us down and ground us. The following practices can help you feel anchored during unsteady times.
- Express gratitude. There is abundant research on how gratitude makes us happier — it helps us recognize positive moments, remember what is good and meaningful in our lives, and acknowledge people we appreciate. Write a note to someone thanking them for what they do, whether it is a friend, family member, coworker, or even the cashier at your grocery store. Tell a loved one what you appreciate about them. Have everyone at your dinner table name something they feel grateful for today.
- List the things that you control. Either in writing or in your head, start to keep a running list of the things that you have control over. When we experience or bear witness to things that are beyond our control, we can feel frustrated, scared, anxious, and powerless. Don’t lose sight of how many choices you get to make every day, and how much control you continue to have over your own life and influencing the lives of others. Do you have choice in what clothes you wear, what foods you eat, what music you listen to? Do you have control of how you use at least some of your time, or in planning for certain aspects of your future? Do you choose to influence someone else’s life in a positive way, to vote in elections, to donate to charity? Do you choose where your thoughts are? Start your list and keep adding to it, and remind yourself that even the act of making this list is a choice you make to improve your mental well-being.
- Do a good deed. I’m leaving this open-ended because there are so many ways to practice kindness or serve others. Set a goal for yourself for the next week to either do three smaller acts or one bigger act of kindness. A smaller act might be leaving a loving note taped to the bathroom mirror for your partner to see in the morning, giving a generous tip to a waiter, or bringing cookies to the office. A larger act might be volunteering at a local soup kitchen, or spending a morning clearing out old winter clothes and coats to donate and taking them to a local shelter. When you focus your attention on doing good deeds for others, you benefit from feeling helpful rather than helpless.
- Be creative. I highly recommend coloring, even if it seems childish or silly! For some people, other creative tasks might achieve this same goal (knitting, cooking, painting, etc.), but I suggest coloring because it is easy and requires no skill and few supplies. Adult coloring books are a big trend now, and for good reason. There is an undeniable therapeutic power in doing art, and coloring allows us to be creative even if we aren’t artistic. Spend five or ten minutes coloring and you might notice how relaxed you feel afterwards; it distracts you from your worries and draws your full focus into something present, manageable, and enjoyable.
- Go outside. Take a walk in a park or a hike in the woods, breathe in the fresh air, and reconnect with nature. Walking outdoors has so many health benefits and can reduce stress in multiple ways; it provides exercise (endorphins!), sunlight (vitamin d!), and distraction from some of our stress (a mini mental vacation!). Being in nature also grounds us, it clears away the overstimulation that we are bombarded with indoors, and it reminds us of the beauty that still exists in the world.
- Seek comfort. Sometimes as adults we forget that we still need to feel nurtured. When we are stressed or fearful, we might hold it in for a variety of reasons- wanting to look strong for our family, not wanting to burden others, or feeling too busy to take the time to take care of ourselves. Allow yourself to be compassionate towards yourself and to seek compassion from others. When the world feels like a crazy place and you start to feel scared, sometimes a hug from a loved one is a magical cure. Ask for hugs, call and ask a friend for their encouragement, take a bubble bath, go to therapy- do what relaxes you and choose to seek the care and comfort that you need.
Taking time for these practices is part of good self-care that I teach my clients to do regularly. It also sets a good example for our children – the world can be a scary place, but we can control how we respond to it, we can still find things to be grateful for and create moments of peace and happiness for ourselves and others.