Picture from: Monster.ca
Many describe themselves as, “control freaks,” which is often used in a very broad sense. Sometimes, people refer to themselves as “control freaks,” because they like to have things organized, or that they are very disciplined with their time and how they lead their lives. Such a control freak isn’t all that bad! Others refer to themselves as control freaks when they try to be in control of everything and specifically, things that they can’t be in charge of. If you have such personality traits yourself, you know that it can be anything from feeling stress and anxiety, to full blown panic attacks. There are times during our lives when outside forces tend to be more present with us than others, such as during a pandemic and a stressful election (if you live in the U.S.).
It’s stressful trying to control the uncontrollable.
There’s a famous saying by Viktor Frankl:
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
For many, the issue is that they can’t control what they feel about what happens to them; that is something that seems foreign and completely impossible. It’s as if you told someone to go run a marathon without any training. To many, running 42 kilometers (26.2 miles) seems like an impossible feat. However, with training, we know we can build up the endurance to complete it. The same goes for building up mental resilience; to be able to accept what we can’t control and instead focus our time and energy on what we can control. This, in turn will ironically help with calming the anxiety and need for control of the uncontrollable.
The reason why it seems so impossible to be able to choose how one responds to especially the most stressful of environments or scenarios is because very often when there’s a stressful and negative time or situation, we start focusing only on the negative. Fear is one of our strongest emotions and when we let fear take over, we often stop acting rational, since fear can take over even the strongest parts of our intelligence. That is why it is so important to find coping mechanisms and to continuously focus effort to improve our mental resilience. Learning to be able to push oneself past one’s comfort zones is key. That can be done in many different ways but some of the best ways I’ve found are:
Hard physical exercise
What all three categories teaches you to do is control your Fight or Flight response; to learn to calm your mind in stressful situations and just absorb the present.
The good news if you recognize any of the aforementioned traits in your personality or behaviour, is that you can improve and even get rid of it completely, by learning to focus your energy and efforts on controlling your emotions rather than your environment. Turning one’s focus to one’s emotions and away from the outside environment will help calming the mind. Psychology Today has a great six step solution:
Listen and acknowledge that you are feeling a certain way. In order to change or work on something, we have to first recognize that it exists. Thus, recognize the thoughts and feelings that are experiencing.
Make peace with your mind. Recognize and accept that thoughts will flow through your mind constantly and that will never change. There’s no point in trying to go to war with your own mind and blocking thoughts out won’t work in the long run either. Therefore you will have to accept that thoughts and emotions will always be present but they don’t have to be in control of your being.
Realizing that your thoughts are just thoughts. It can be hard to separate one’s thoughts and mind from one’s own being. However, thoughts can change and fluctute, depending on mood, sleep, experiences and so forth. Thoughts can be seen as habits and just like there are healthy and unhealthy habits. Therefore,
Observe your mind. Pay attention to your own thoughts and emotions. Do certain actions or experiences trigger negative thoughts or emotions? Does stress or not enough sleep affect you a certain way?
Retrain your mind to rewire your brain. Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. adds to the famous quote “We are what we repeatedly do”, by saying “We become what we repeatedly think” and it makes sense: If our brains run on autopilot and our brains are wired to focus on survival by default, it can be hard to focus on the positive. Hence, we have to actively focus on training ourselves to rewire our brains and just like with any type of training, it is going to take time and won’t happen overnight.
Practice self compassion. Remember, it’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to have emotions and to feel a certain way and it is in no way a sign of weakness! Focus your time and energy on not only practicing self compassion but also remembering all the things that we still have, even during these tough times. Thus, practice self compassion and gratitude.
In summary, it comes down to recognising that there is a problem. Do you feel a lot of stress and anxiety? Are you able to recognize when and in what situations it seems to worsen? Next, you have to actively start recognizing when it happens and how to start implementing change. It’s important to remember to continue to assess one’s progress. It can also be very useful to seek outside perspectives, through a coach or a therapist. Make sure you check in with yourself daily and practice gratitude and remember, nothing changes overnight and consistency is key! We also know that developing mental resilience is key and the best way to do so is through physical activity. One of the best ways to handle anxiety and stress is a good workout session. Don’t have access to a gym or a personal trainer? Go for a run! Studies show that physical activities such as running for 45 minutes three times a week helps mental states such as anxiety, depression and panic attacks.