Stuff happens in life. And often, difficult stuff happens that we not only didn’t see coming and didn’t do anything to deserve, but also have no control to stop.
It’s common to lose sight of all logic when life throws us an unpalatable curve ball. You might go into superhero mode and try to save the day, or go over what happened obsessively as the rest of your life gets neglected.
The result, of course, is more anxiety and stress then we know what to do with. Then you not only have a bad situation on your hands, but all the side effects that worry brings, like sleeplessness, muscle tension, and mood swings.
While it’s hard to avoid the natural human propensity to react, what you can do is have a tool kit of approaches that can keep you from getting stuck in your stress response and instead see you moving through what life throws you and coming out the other side in one piece.
5 Ways to Cope When Life Goes Out of Control
1. Throw your inner victim a life jacket.
When life becomes overwhelming it often feels easier to just throw up your hands and assume you can’t do anything to feel better. This is a form of victim mode, where you give up your power and stop trying to think of how to cope.
Being a victim often happens because instead of processing our feelings of being vulnerable and scared we pretend we are fine and instead choose to feel sorry for ourselves.
It can help to not repress your feelings but give yourself a time window to fully feel what you need to feel. If you worry that processing how the situation is making you feel will overwhelm you, consider finding a stress support group, hiring a therapist to guide you, or calling a hotline.
Although you can’t change what has happened, none of us are powerless. We all have the power to choose our next step in life even if we can’t change the one that came before.
2. Be honest – on paper.
When we are under stress the natural tendency is to ‘talk things through’ with our friends and loved ones. Have you ever noticed that the more you talk, the more the story slowly changes? It’s as if the mind cannot resist telling a good story. But those embellishments might quickly land you into that victim territory, feeling worse about your situation than you already did.
And then there is the way that many of us are codependent, and so easily influenced by the way others around us feel we should deal with our situation we entirely lose sight of our own instincts. An unfortunate slip on public property you don’t want to make a deal of becomes gross negligence on the side of the property owner because your friends feel that it is. And your decision to quietly heal from your sprained ankle instead sees you taking advice to pursue a court case where hours of stress and lawyers gives you a few hundred quid but leaves you depressed.
Writing things down on paper can be an amazing way to gain clarity and keep the facts straight. It’s as if the process of moving thought to hand makes it harder for us to lie to ourselves.
Try writing out your situation in exact detail. You can even make a time line.
What really happened vs. what you’ve been saying happened? How did you really feel? What was your first instinct on how to deal with things? The more you get to the truth of your situation, the more you can source ways to deal with it that will actually work.
You might also benefit from writing down your ideas for managing your situation.
3. Do a ‘one eighty’ with your focus.
When things happen that we can’t change, they often become all we think about. Perhaps you like to focus on the negative because being a victim gives you attention (see point one above), perhaps you were taught to focus on the negative by growing up with parents who did so, or perhaps you have just never considered that you have a choice (see point five below). Or maybe you are just easily influenced by a world that loves to focus on the negative – just pick up any newspaper.
Whatever your reasons, the worry and anxiety focussing on your troubles brings is like a part-time job for your head. It leaves very little space for any other thoughts, let alone finding useful ways forward.
If you decide to take your focus off the problem, you create headspace for solutions to present themselves. And then you can focus on other things around you that bring real benefits instead of just worry. For example, if you decided to focus on your work again instead of your problem, what benefits might you reap? Could you find enough contracts to get out of debt, get a promotion, feel more comfortable going in to the office?
And remember, no matter how much you go over what has happened to you, you can’t change the past. The only thing you have control over is choices you are making right now. Which leads to the next point…
4. Stop time travelling.
Mindfulness – the art of practicing present moment awareness – has become all the rage in the last few years. It is based on the concept that most of our anxieties are over things we can’t change (the past) or things we can’t predict (future).
By putting our focus on what is in front of us right now we can hear our thoughts and feelings more clearly, make choices that suit us better, and create that headspace to make better decisions. In other words, mindfulness can help you let go and move on.
Oh. And it can make you feel calmer and more at peace with the world, too. Never a bad thing.
5. Switch up your perspective.
Many of us walk around sure that what we think is the gospel truth. It rarely is. Instead, it’s a perspective. Imagine life is a statue, and that a circle of people surrounds the statue, how many other angles are there to see things from than the one you are standing at?
Sometimes when life seems unbearable a new perspective can jolt us into a better mindset. Try thinking of three people that you admire and respect. How would they see your problem from their perspective?Would Nelson Mandela have thought that losing your job is the end of the world? Would Joan of Arc have thought that a terrible picture of you spread around the internet means you should stay at home for a month hiding?
And finally… get support.
Yes, we say it a lot around here. But that’s only because it works.
The trick is to get the right support. It’s not always the best idea to just talk to the same people you always talk to. They will either just agree with you, or unconsciously try to sway your decisions in a way that helps them. For example, they might try to convince you to let them help when you don’t want their help, because they need to feel wanted and useful.
And unfortunately, our friends and loved ones’ desire to let us know they care can also easily turn into sympathy that can encourage our victimhood. Attention feels good, and sympathy is a form of attention we can want more of, but it rarely leads to actions that can move us out of our difficult situation and towards a resolution we feel good about.
Often what can help is to find a fresh perspective from someone who is not personally invested in your situation or the outcome. This might be a support group, a new friend, or mean working with a coach or therapist.
It might also be useful to speak to people who have been through what you’ve been through. They can save you some trial and error and inspire you to see how you to can move on. Try online forums, or again, see if there is any sort of social support group in your city.
Don’t trick yourself into thinking you can handle everything alone. While you can’t always control what happens to you in life, you can control if the way you react shows self respect or self neglect, and sometimes the strongest and most respectful thing a person can do is realise that they deserve a helping hand.
Have you had something happen that was way out of your control and really threw you for a loop? How did you deal with it? Share your tips below.
Photos by Federico Borghi, Kevin Dooley