Reducing Stress: Coping With What You Can & Can’t Control

Reducing Stress Coping With What You Can & Can’t Control

Stress can lead us to skip self-care, bash our bodies and overeat. It can leave us feeling overwhelmed — and out of control. And that can seem like the worst feeling. Ever. You feel like you’re barreling through life on a train with no track, about to collide with anything and everything in your path.

Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.

Editor: Muhammad Talha

Fortunately, even in stressful situations where we think we have zero control, there’s always something we can do. We can reach out for help. We can shift our perspective. And we can find a healthy way to cope. In her book, The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual: A Practical Mind-Body-Spirit Guide for Putting an End to Overeating and Dieting, author and psychotherapist Julie M. Simon presents a helpful strategy for looking at stress and empowering ourselves to reduce different kinds of stressors. Specifically, she suggests readers list their stressors, and then split them up into what they can and can’t control. Then she offers the below suggestions for handling these stressors healthfully.

Dealing With What You Can’t Control

  • Give yourself permission to feel your feelings about this stressor. And let yourself express these feelings. For instance, you might journal about your feelings.
  • Share how you feel with trusted loved ones or with a therapist. As Julie writes, “Even when there is nothing you can do to change a stressful situation, sharing with others can be a big stress release.”
  • Pay attention to your thoughts — and the tendency toward catastrophic thinking. If you spot these kinds of thoughts, reframe them. For instance, let’s say you’re overwhelmed by clutter. Instead of saying, “I’ll never get this done,” Julie notes that you might say: “I am capable of making a realistic to-do list and accomplishing it,” or “I’m learning how to go slow, practice patience, and break down large, daunting projects into small, doable tasks.”
  • Practice relaxation techniques and yoga. It’s amazing how these kinds of practices can soothe those tumultuous thoughts and ease the tension in your body. Anna’s website has some great resources on yoga.
  • Consider if this stressor will matter in the long-run. “Will this stressor be gone or reduced in a month, six months or a year?” Julie writes. If it’s a longer-term stressor, she says, remember that “your feelings and acceptance level are going to change with time.”
  • Consider if this stressor comes with any positives. Has it helped you grow, become more resilient, or become more empathic? If you can’t think of any positive results, just be gentle with yourself, and realize that you’re still processing this stressor. “You will move toward acceptance at your own pace,” according to Julie.
  • Reflect on the good things in your life, such as your loved ones, your traits and talents, and important basics like food and shelter.
  • Add more joy to your life. What activities do you enjoy? What activities relax you? Try to add a few of these activities into your life.

Dealing With What You Can Control

  • Figure out what you can and can’t handle. “Consider relinquishing some responsibilities, putting them off, or even changing some habits, such as ordering groceries online,” Julie writes.
  • Practice saying no. While this can feel very uncomfortable, try to say no to added responsibilities. Remember that saying no takes practice. These are some helpful pieces on saying no: here and here.
  • Evaluate your boundaries. “Do you feel too enmeshed or merged with the needs and feelings of others, or do you feel too cut off and isolated from other people?” Julie says. Here’s some info on building and preserving your boundaries.
  • Reevaluate potentially stressful relationships. If you have someone toxic in your life, can you limit your time with them? Can you end the relationship?
  • Seek professional help. Here’s how to find a good therapist.
  • Take a course — or read books — on assertiveness training and time management. Being assertive and managing your time are both skills you can learn. And, again, practice is the key.

Sometimes, implementing these types of tips can seem stressful, too. It can seem overwhelming to try to chip away at a stressful situation. Where do you start? How do you find the time? But remember to start small. Start with an activity or a step that resonates with you. Maybe that’s practicing a few breathing techniques or calling a close friend. Maybe that’s reading a book or a blog post. Maybe that’s getting a massage or telling someone you can’t make that holiday party. As Julie writes, “Reducing and managing stress is a process. Trying to reduce all your stress at once only adds more stress.” So she suggests starting small — and acknowledging that you’re doing it. “Applaud yourself for the willingness and courage you have to examine your life and make changes,” she writes.

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