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What can I do when I feel out of control?

Tags: Coping

Reinhold Niebuhr said, in 1943:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference".

This piece of wisdom became the prayer for Alcoholics Anonymous and their 12 Step Program for overcoming addictions and it says a lot, not only about acceptance but about control. The words acceptance and control could easily be exchanged. What can't I control, what can I and how do I know the difference?

We can try to control other people and our environment to make it more comfortable.

This is not always easy but it's always worth a try. For example, when you have a problem with someone's behaviour, you can be assertive and ask for change.

The 'assertiveness Intervention' involves:

  1. Stating what you want to change – "I have a problem with that thing you do ....."
  2. Expressing your feelings – "It makes me feel ....."
  3. Understanding where the other person is coming from "I understand you feel ....."
  4. Saying what you'd rather have instead (the preferred outcome) – "I'd prefer that ....."

Say it straight, be brief and be kind.

You can also try to manipulate your physical environment to increase your comfort level. Turn the heater up or down, put on more clothes, green it up with indoor plants, use soothing music, etc.

"Done all that!" you might say.

Sometimes controlling your environment or people might involve you moving away from a relationship or into a new environment. This can be as stressful as putting up with the present person or environment, but might be worth it in the long run (after careful consideration).

It's not easy moving to a new area or breaking up a relationship whether it's a spouse, a family member or a friend. Not only careful consideration but advice and support are essential as well as good stress management, but it's something you do have some control over, even if it's a stressful and uncomfortable option.

What if my time and work are out of control?

Basic time management skills include listing, prioritising and diarising. Motivating yourself to acquire these skills and put them into practice could involve some kind of reward when you feel more in control or you've reached your goal (the brain loves rewards).

What if I feel out of control in myself?

If you can't regulate your life, your emotions or your thoughts, you might feel very out of control.

It's a disturbing feeling and a healthy sense of self-control can be very important to physical and mental health.

  1. Learn to better regulate thoughts, feelings and emotions. Regulation doesn't necessarily mean always being in perfect control. Mindfulness practice is proving to be effective in regulating thoughts, emotions and feelings. Mindfulness Practice can be very relaxing, as well as encouraging better regulation. Mindfulness involves finding the mind or the 'observational self' to observe your thoughts, feelings, emotions and environment without judging, interacting or reacting to it. It only takes a couple of minutes at a time to do the practice, it's simple and you can apply it in a broader context (more on Mindfulness soon).
  2. Take stock of your commitments. Are you trying to do too much? Rearranging your commitments and scheduling in some time for quiet or enjoyable activities can be very rejuvenating.
  3. Try not to be self-critical or perfectionistic. Self-judgment is harsh and damages your self-esteem and self-worth. Be kind to yourself and appreciate your strengths.
  4. When things start to feel out of control, take a deep breath in for three seconds and out for three seconds. The six-second breath can help to engage the rational brain and so rein in our emotions.
  5. Let things go that you absolutely have no control over. Learn the wisdom of knowing what you can control and what you can't. Often it can mean accepting something or someone just as they are. Accepting doesn't mean approving. Also it doesn't mean being passive. Taking action is important, especially doing something to feel better, even if it's making a cup of tea.

As always, it might help to consult a professional or your doctor if you feel you can't do it on your own.

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