Not long after I got my driver’s license at 16, when I was pretty convinced I was an “above average driver” (
right!), I had my fir
st experience in a skid. The roads were snowy, I braked at the stop sign, and proceeded to glide right on through the intersection. Heart pounding, hands shaking, I was waiting for the inevitable CRUNCH! Fortunately, more experienced drivers had the foresight to stay out of my way. Even though that experience is more than a few years ago (right!), I still remember the horrible feeling of being totally out of control.
For many of us, it can feel that way every day during these times. This virus has reminded us that much of our lives that we took for gra
nted, was really out of our control. And when things get scary, we HATE to feel out of control.
We can’t control other people, or time, or politics, or viruses, or the pace of change. So if that’s what you’re focusing on, you’ll never escape overwhelm and worry. The best any of us can do is seek to influence or focus on the ONE thing we truly CAN control: Ourselves!
Remember that the foundation of overwhelm is fear, and when we’re fearful, we naturally tend to focus on what we can’t control that could harm us. It’s how our ancestors survived. However, that no longer works in today’s environment. No matter how much toilet paper or disinfectant someone hoards, they’ll still feel out of control.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself what specifically is causing your feeling of overwhelm. For those specific things, ask the follow questions:
- What can I do about it right now? You will feel a sense of empowerment when you can take specific action now. Even small actions steps can help you feel more in control.
- If I can’t do anything about it right now, then when CAN I act on it? For example, if you’re doing this exercise on Sunday morning and you need to contact a business that isn’t open on the weekend, write down a reminder for that specific action, then let it go until Monday. Incessantlyworrying, visiting and re-visiting it mentally, is a totally unproductive energy drain. It reinforces the message to your brain and body that you are out of control when you’re NOT.
- If I can’t do anything about it right now, and I can’t do anything about it later, is it really something I can control or influence? Is it something I can prepare for, just in case? If not, how can I let it go? Recognize that holding on to something you can’t change, and can’t do anything about, is hurting yourself and others. Do whatever preparation or mitigation you can. If you keep ruminating on it, though, go on to Step 4.
- If your mind just won’t let it go, experiment with scheduling a “worry date” in the future. If the worry comes up again, remind yourself that you have an appointment to worry about it on the calendar. You can even put your list of things to worry about as part of your calendar entry. Writing down the worries can often be helpful, since it reassures the mind that you’re taking care of it. When it’s time for your “worry appointment,” go through this series of questions again. Or, you may find that when the time comes for your worry day, you have much more interesting, productive things to do with your time. Of course you do! And, if it helps, you can push that worry date into the future again.
Some of us tend to worry more than others. I would tease my Mom that she had a PhD in worry. It always seemed to cast a shadow on her well-being, even if there wasn’t really anything to worry about. You may notice that you, too, tend to be more focused on what you can’t control. And because of how we’re wired, that’s a recipe for worry and overwhelm. Your pattern of worry, repeated over time, starts to become a habit. Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch writer survived a World War II concentration camp, beautifully said, ““Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
What can you do today to make sure you ARE in control?