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Coping with Things Outside Your Control

The last few years have been filled with a variety of both positive and negative emotions – many of which are influenced by the world around us – or environmental factors which lie outside of our control. If you are like many, this lack of control is frustrating and can lead to feelings of being stuck, stress, burnout, and even anger or anxiety. 

Anxiety and stress manifest through various physical and mental symptoms. Physically, they can cause heart palpitations, rapid breathing, excessive sweating, headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, and digestive issues. These physical symptoms are often accompanied by a constant sense of restlessness or being on edge. Mentally, anxiety and stress can lead to excessive worrying, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and a feeling of impending doom. They can also disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or restless sleep. Over time, chronic stress and anxiety can have a more profound impact on both mental and physical health, highlighting the importance of managing these conditions effectively in everyday life.

Here are five coping strategies that can help yourself or someone you love during stressful events: 

1. Determine what you can control 

When you feel moments of worry or anxiety, take a deep breath and examine the things you do have control over. For instance some examples of things (potentially) within your control are: 

  • How you respond to emotions & painful feelings
  • How you respond to negative thoughts
  • How you respond to memories
  • How much action you take towards goals
  • How much you focus on & engage in what you do
  • What you say and do to influence other people
  • How much you use values for motivation
  • Whether or not you act like the sort of person you want to be

Comparatively, explore things outside our control include: 

  • How other people treat you
  • Other people’s actions, feelings, beliefs, and thoughts
  • The passing of time
  • Your physical needs (food, sleep, etc)
  • The past
  • The future
  • Traumatic life events like natural disasters or pandemics 

This first step is aimed at recognizing and distinguishing where you can channel your finite time and energy and can lead to relief in and of itself.

2. Identify your fears

Do you find your mind going to the worst possible scenario? Do you doubt your ability to cope if something bad happens? 

Usually we over-predict the impact of certain events in our life. This is not to say negative events or feelings do not come up, research just shows we often overestimate how much, and for how long these things will impact us. Building awareness of this process and acknowledging your ability to adverse events can allow you to get “unstuck.”

3. Shift Energy Towards Problem Solving Rather than Ruminating

Replaying the past or dwelling on catastrophic outcomes usually isn’t helpful. But problem solving is. Armed with self-awareness from the past three steps, you will be ready to think about ways to prevent problems and increase chances for future success. 

4. Focus on your influence

While we may have some influence on people and circumstances, we can’t force things to go our way. So while we can give our children the tools to get good grades, we can’t make them get a 4.0 GPA. Instead, focus on putting your time into setting up your child for long-term success, rather than dwelling on the outcomes (positive or negative). 

To have the most influence, focus on changing our behavior and reaction to events. 

5. Develop Healthy Affirmations 

Scientists estimate people have about 70,000 thoughts per day. Unfortunately, many of these thoughts incite feelings of self-doubt, fear, and discouragement as we are wired to protect ourselves from harm. To combat this negative thinking, keep a few positive healthy affirmations on hand. So whether you remind yourself, “I’m stronger than I think,” “I can handle this,” or “I made it through [xxxxxx], I can do this.” Your affirmations can help drown out the negativity.

With practice, you can train your brain to think differently and fight our natural negativity bias. 

While not a perfect recipe, these coping skills can allow you to build awareness and turn it into action for your physical and mental health. With practice, you’ll begin to accept that while you can’t control every situation in your daily life, you can control how you think, feel, and behave.


*If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health, request an appointment with one of our professional mental health providers at Diversus Health today. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.

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