We all want to seize the day and feel in control and on top of everything life throws our way. But it isn’t always possible and rising to those challenges is key to our health and wellbeing, experts say.
Tori Burgess is a Nationally Certified Counsellor and Certified Family Therapist, and currently works as an EAP ‘Counsellor at the Employee Assistance Programme of Bermuda. She spoke about how people can deal with their stressors and how to help yourself when it feels like things are spiralling out of control.
“It is a natural desire for us as human beings and functioning members of society to want to feel in control,” says Burgess. “The challenge comes when we are unable to accept the fact that the aspects of life we are actually able to control are limited.”
She says it’s “completely normal” to feel compelled to maintain a sense of control over one’s personal, professional and social circumstances. However, “it is also important to recognize that inevitably there will be moments when things may not go as planned.”
Burgess continues: “As change remains one of the few certainties in life, acceptance and adaptability become critical characteristics to develop and maintain. With that said, feeling as if things are out of control is not only normal, but likely for everyone at some point.”
She identified various stressors that many people struggle with: increased professional demands, financial worries, familial responsibilities, health challenges and insufficient time for self-care.
All of these stressors can have emotional and physical impacts, including low mood, heightened emotional reactivity, difficulty sleeping, anxiousness, lack of energy, exhaustion, poor appetite or diet, lack of patience, irritability, reduced motivation and loss of interest in activities we once enjoyed.
Some of this may sound familiar. Perhaps in reading this, you are realizing that you are feeling overwhelmed by your life stressors and need to find new, healthy ways of coping. Burgess says it’s important to identify what’s in your control and the factors outside your control. Then, develop a toolkit of strategies to help you deal with the times you feel stressed or overwhelmed.
Burgess offers some advice for dealing with stressors. “Get organized. Prepare as best you can for potential changes, challenges or stressors. Prioritize. What is critical in this moment and what isn’t? Set appropriate and necessary boundaries. Say ‘no’ when you need to.”
Self-care is also important. “Give attention to personal needs. Schedule breaks and try to maintain a consistent self-care routine,” Burgess says. “Big things like massages and hair appointments are great, though daily activities such as physical exercise and peaceful daily hobbies are also critical. As best you can, maintain control over your environment, as this has the potential to impact our thoughts and feelings.”
If you’re not able to implement these strategies and feelings of being overwhelmed or out of control persist, ask for help. “Part of taking care of ourselves is ensuring that our physical health appointments are up to date. In addition, seeking an opinion from your doctor or reaching out to a Counsellor is important so that appropriate recommendations can be made based on what you are experiencing.”
Burgess provides a final piece of advice: “Try to remain self-aware so that you’re able to identify any changes in your own mood, appetite, sleep patterns and/or energy level.”
After all, Burgess says self-awareness is the most critical part of maintaining a sense of control.
10 Strategies for Developing Self-Control Edited from ‘Psychology Today’
- A CAN-DO ATTITUDE Viewing ourselves as free and responsible for our actions is the foundation for self-discipline. Evidence shows that people function better and are more able to deal with stress when they feel that they are in control.
- GOAL SETTING Goals basically guide our choices. The more specific the goal, the better able people are to reach it. Effective goal pursuits follow the SMART criteria: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based.
- SELF–MONITOR Self-monitoring is a form of feedback. Monitoring progress toward goal attainment helps one to concentrate on goal-relevant activities. Self-monitoring helps us to become experts on our behaviours. By doing so, it will make habits much less difficult to change.
- MOTIVATION The more you want the goal, the more likely you are willing to make the efforts and sacrifices required to achieve it. The strength of people’s commitment to something depends on its value to them and the chance that the value will, in fact, occur. The relationship between these two factors is multiplicative.
- CONFIDENCE An important component of motivation is the person’s self-perceived ability to achieve it. People won’t build up much motivation for change if they believe it is impossible for them.
- WILLPOWER Willpower represents strength or psychological energy that one uses to resist other temptations in order to work toward one’s goal. People consume this resource when they exert self-control. Thus, having only one goal makes self-control more successful than when people have two or more conflicting goals.
- AVOID TEMPTATION Avoiding temptation requires anticipating situations where unwanted desires might emerge and taking proactive steps to ensure that one doesn’t succumb to the problematic desire.
- THE “WHY” AND “HOW” MINDSETS “Why” questions encourage long-term thinking, or desirability of pursuing an action. In contrast, “How” questions bring the mind down to the present and consider the goal’s attainability or feasibility. From a distant perspective, one sees the forest, but from a near perspective, one sees trees.
- SELF-CONTROL AS A PATTERN OF BEHAVIOUR While the physical independence of today and tomorrow is real enough, the fact remains that actions today affect actions tomorrow. Psychologist Howard Rachlin argues that self-control comes from choosing “patterns” of behaviour over time rather than individual “acts.”
- AUTOMATED GOALS Goal pursuits can be enhanced by a simple planning strategy: making if-then plans that connect a certain triggering situation with a concrete behaviour. For example, “If I order something for dinner at a restaurant, then I will choose a vegetarian meal” or “If people mistreat me, then I will take a deep breath and count to 10.” Repeated practices strengthen the association between the specific situational cues and intended response.