All too often we may face a stressful situation not feeling confident that we have any control at all over what’s happening. That lack of control, in turn, creates more stress.
This could happen with a stand-alone situation or a problem that stretches over the years. And if you’re dealing with long-term stress, you could feel more like you are simply enduring rather than resolving the issue as a result.
So what’s the solution?
It’s redirecting your focus from what you can’t control to what you can. Having the ability to make this shift will not only lift your spirits, but this change in mindset will also allow you to thrive when facing ongoing stress.
The Meaning of Control
First, let’s take a step back and consider the meaning of control. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines control in this way: “to exercise restraining or directing influence over.” It also includes in the definition “to have power over.”
These are important concepts when it comes to considering control in our own lives. More often we have the power to exercise control over things that are immediately within our spheres of influence. However, when it comes to issues on a much larger scale, we have less power to exert any influence directly.
The problem for many is that when they feel powerless to have any control, that’s when stress begins to develop. As you can imagine, if this continues over time, the stress levels keep rising. And that can become a major disruption in your life and can lead to unhealthy ways of coping.
The Difference Between the Little and Big Picture
As noted, for many, it’s much easier to have control over things in their immediate lives.
For example, let’s say that your faucet is leaking. That’s a common problem that happens with many homeowners. Most likely you have the power to fix the problem yourself. You take a wrench and tighten a connection, and presto, the issue is solved!
Even if you can’t fix the leak, you know that you can call a plumber for help. That’s the little picture.
However, what if there is a major flood in your neighborhood and you have to evacuate? It can be really hard to make that decision. You feel so powerless over what isn’t in your control (the weather, a dam failing, etc.).
Neither you nor someone else can do anything about that. And that’s the big picture.
Focusing on What’s in Your Immediate Control
To cope with enduring stress it’s helpful to focus your attention on what you can do, versus what you can’t.
For instance, using the flood example above, you can’t control the fact that you had to evacuate. Yet, you can redirect your focus on ensuring that your family is taken care of and that you’re going through the steps of filing an insurance claim. And when you return home after the floodwaters recede, you can focus on either rebuilding or moving.
While that doesn’t seem to be much control, sometimes, the only control we do have in a situation is what choices we make. But that is still a measure of control that can help you feel some power during a stressful situation.
When You Can’t Be in Control
However, for some, it seems as if it’s not possible to exert any control over their lives.
For instance, when you struggle with substance abuse, it doesn’t feel as if there is much you can do about the situation. One problem compounds onto another and another. Soon there is a long list of problems and few solutions. And it’s easy to think: ‘If there isn’t anything I can do about these problems, why bother even trying in the first place?’
However, even when faced with such overwhelming issues, there is still much you can do. You can’t control the fact that you got a DUI charge. That’s not going away. But there is still a lot that is in your power and control.
- Attending support groups or meetings
- Seeking out a sponsor
- Taking steps to live a healthier life
- Participating in substance abuse counseling
Even when a situation is dire, there is most likely something you can do to stay in control. However, it can be hard to identify what those options are. If you are facing enduring stress and are struggling with not feeling in control of your life, talking to a counselor about how stress therapy can help you is a good step. I invite you to contact us, 256-686-9195.