One of the biggest lessons we have to learn in life is that we are rarely in control. No matter how put together we are or how tightly we think we are holding on to order, life will throw us a curveball and yank the ground out beneath our feet when we least expect it.
It can happen in small ways. You may just be having a bad day, where you feel tired and unmotivated and like you can’t make yourself focus on your work. Or your life can spin out of control in major ways: you may lose a loved one, get divorced, get seriously ill.
What do you do when life feels out of your control? How do you bounce back, and how do you keep going?
Take a Break
The first thing you can do when life starts to feel out of your control is take a break. While you may never be able to pause life completely, do whatever you can to carve out a bit of time for yourself. Stay in bed, cancel all of your plans, and just breathe.
Meditating is a great way to center yourself and reduce stress levels. You can also work out or spend all day watching your favorite TV show: anything that will help you briefly pause and take yourself out of the situation that feels out of control.
Be Kind to Yourself
Speaking of breaks, the other important thing to do when you are under extreme stress is to cut yourself some slack. Don’t expect yourself to keep going about things as you usually would. Don’t expect the same productivity levels, the same mood, and everything you’re used to. And most importantly, don’t punish yourself for it.
It’s very easy to make matters worse by telling yourself you are not good enough or that you should be coping better. There is so much about stress and trauma we don’t understand. Sometimes your body and mind just need to slow down, reset, and then start over. And that’s okay.
Be Mindful of Your Sleep
When life feels out of control, it can be quite difficult to get enough sleep. You may be going to bed on time, but if you keep tossing and turning and never fall asleep properly, you’ll soon start to feel even worse.
The first thing you can do is try to make your bed more comfortable. Get yourself a mattress that doesn’t contain fiberglass that will be kinder on your skin, invest in some high-quality bedding, and make the bed a place you want to be.
If you can’t sleep, listen to soothing music, put some ASMR on, or play an audiobook for yourself. Don’t try to force yourself to sleep, and don’t start to get anxious because you are still awake. Sleep will come when you are able to relax.
Try for Another Perspective
A mindset shift is sometimes the best way to cope. Instead of looking at it as “things being out of your control,” try to reframe the situation. An “it is what it is, and I just have to deal with it” perspective can sometimes be of use.
Also try to find the upside or the lesson in the situation. Even when it seems that things are as dark as they can get, you can always think of something that could make it worse. Hold on to that. Tell yourself you are learning and growing, and that process needs to be difficult in order to work.
Take Control Where You Can
We are often told that the only thing we can control in life is how we respond to situations that are outside our control. And while that is true, there are some other things we can control: what we eat, how much we move our body, and how we speak to ourselves every day.
When life starts to feel like it’s getting too much, focus on the things you can legitimately control. Eat nutrient-rich foods, but don’t be afraid to indulge if it makes you feel better. Just don’t take it overboard. Control your thoughts as much as you can. Speak to yourself kindly, and surround yourself with the people and hobbies you enjoy most.
Talk to Someone
There are two kinds of people: those who really benefit from talking things through and those who don’t. If you fall in the latter group, and talking about difficult things only stresses you out more, don’t push yourself to share your thoughts and feelings when you simply don’t feel ready to do that at all.
If you fall into the first group and you process things best out loud, find a friend or family member to talk to. You will also be surprised how well you can feel after talking to a complete stranger, like an online therapist. If someone asks you what you are going through and they really seem interested, feel free to share. Give them just the key points and see what advice they come back with: it’s often the best kind.
Don’t Make It Worse
One more piece of advice: don’t reach for a solution that may help in the short term but that you already know will turn out to be a bad idea in the long run. Don’t drink too much, don’t go out too much, don’t eat too much sugar, don’t binge on anything.
Don’t make any rash decisions, and don’t try to fix that dreadful feeling in the pit of your stomach by masking it with another feeling. It’s still going to be there, and you will only end up having a harder time coping with it.
While it will be uncomfortable, just sit with it. Embrace the fear and the difficult emotions. They won’t be here forever, and they will go away sooner if you manage to accept them as a natural part of life.
When life starts to feel out of control, stop. Take a deep breath, relax your muscles, and pause to take stock. What do you want to do next? What are you afraid of? How can you move forward? Will this matter in five years? Slowly make a plan, carefully gauge your own feelings and desired outcomes, and take it from there. It will all be okay in the end.