Is This Something I Can Control?

We face stressors every day and sometimes when we face multiple stressors, we can become overwhelmed. A helpful tool for managing stress is to ask, "Is this something I can control?"

By Momentous Institute | Feb 15, 2021
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Everyone experiences stress. We face stressors every day and sometimes when we face multiple stressors, we can become overwhelmed. When we look at taking care of our mental health it is important to be able to identify the things that cause us stress. Once we can identify these things, we are better equipped to face them.

However, identifying stressors isn’t the only thing we need to be able to do. We also need to be able to recognize what stressors we can and cannot control.  Let’s take a look at an example.

George has an important meeting this morning. He has been preparing for this meeting for weeks and he is more than prepared for the presentation, but he is stressed. He barely made it to work on time because he couldn’t find his keys when he went to leave the house. On the way into the office someone bumped into George causing him to drop his presentation notes, and while he was able to gather up his notes, they are no longer in the correct order and his presentation is set to start in fifteen minutes. On top of all of this, the line at the coffee shop was insanely long, so George was unable to get his morning coffee, which he didn’t really need, but it would have been nice to have.

When we look at this example we can see a lot of stressors that George is facing:

  • He has a huge presentation today
  • He couldn’t find his keys this morning, causing him to have to rush to get to work on time
  • His presentation notes are out of order
  • He really wanted his morning coffee and is disappointed that the line was so long

In this moment, George has two options, he can become increasingly stressed to the point of overwhelm or he can take a moment to take a deep breath and assess his situation. George takes the latter option and what he realizes is that in this moment he can’t control the fact that he couldn’t find his keys, but he makes a mental note to be sure to put them in their usual location tonight before he goes to sleep. He also realizes that there is no use dwelling on the coffee because it isn’t something he can change in this moment. He decides to focus on what he can control. He knows that he is ready for his presentation and that he has just enough time to organize his notes.

After taking this moment to assess his situation, George still feels a little stressed, but the stress is much easier to manage now that he is focusing solely on what he can control in this moment.

We all have times where we are faced with an onslaught of stressors that threaten to overwhelm us. Being able to identify those stressors separate out the ones you can and cannot control can help reduce the stress to a more manageable level. Stopping to think through stress in this way is not intuitive, it is a strategy that must be practiced. So, let’s practice.

Take a minute to think about anything in your life that is currently causing you stress. Make a list.

Now, take a few deep breaths. That list probably feels very overwhelming.

Okay, let’s take a look at the list. Take your time and only do as much as you can. You can always step away and come back later to continue reviewing your list. As you go through the list ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this something I can control?
  • If this is in my control, what can I do to help myself feel less stressed?

Thinking through what you can and cannot control is a tool that you can add to your toolbox when it comes to managing your mental health. This tool won’t be ideal for every situation, but once you strengthen this tool, you will start to notice times in your life when it is helpful in helping you manage stress. 

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