When Life Feels Out of Control, Focus on Yourself

When Life Feels Out of Control Coping with Uncertainty


Sometimes, life feels out of control. The future is uncertain. We're not sure how to cope.


Most of us like to feel in control. We like things to be predictable. We like it when we can plan something and make it happen. We like it when other people do what we want them to do. We like things to go our way.  We like believing that we can prevent bad things from happening – to us and our loved ones. Feeling in control makes us feel safe.


The problem with trying to control everything is twofold. First of all, it’s an illusion. We can’t control other people or situations. We fool ourselves into thinking we can control much more than we really can. And second, controlling everything is an awfully big responsibility. When we try to control people and situations, we’re essentially asserting that we know what’s right; that we know the right thing to do and right things to believe.


Sooner or later we all discover that much of life is actually out of our control.  We each have a small sphere of control consisting mainly of our thoughts and actions. In other words, there’s a lot that’s out of our control! Most of us know this is true, but it also scares the crap out of us.  Accepting that so much is out of our control is hard.


When life feels out of control

Life doesn't always go as planned.


We've all had times when our lives felt completely out of our control. We felt like bad things just kept happening and there was nothing we could do to stop them. Powerlessness is a tough feeling to navigate. I had this feeling recently. I felt like life was swirling all around me and I didn’t know how to solve my problems. I found myself obsessing about what everyone else was doing wrong and how things would be better if they’d change and do things my way!  It felt like a hurricane had swept into my life, tossing around my peace and stability like a flimsy metal roof; sweeping up the calm and predictability that I love. Then I remembered: When life feels like a hurricane, you have to be the eye of the storm.


The eye of a hurricane is that eerily calm, center in the storm. The eye of the storm remains grounded and calm, despite the thrashing winds and soaking waves. You, too, can remain grounded and calm through life’s storms.


When life feels out of control, the key to getting through it is to focus on what you can control. When you bring the focus back to yourself you can feel grounded and comforted.


What do you do to comfort or calm yourself when life feels out of control? How do you center yourself, refocus, or get back on track? I asked my Facebook fans to weigh in and they offered some great suggestions.


How do you cope when life feels out of control?

  • Spend time alone to reflect and rest
  • Meditate
  • Spend time in nature (being truly present – alone, without headphones)
  • Garden (water the plants, pull some weeds, or hack at some overgrown bushes)
  • Go for a long walk
  • Practice yoga
  • Talk to a therapist
  • Confide in good friends
  • Write in a journal or make a list to help organize the chaos, set priorities, and gain perspective
  • Listen to Music
  • Exercise (work up a sweat)
  • Separate yourself from negative people
  • Pray
  • Clean the house (being able to control your physical space and give it a fresh, positive vibe)
  • Swim or soak in the tub (many people mentioned the restorative benefits of water; it feels cleansing and makes you feel “light”)
  • Focus on the present
  • Color mandalas or an adult coloring book
  • Burn sage
  • Clear your calendar and excuse yourself from non-essential activities or commitments (tip: more of it’s non-essential than you think!)
  • Get enough sleep
  • Enjoy a cup of tea


Recognize when you need extra TLC

The other key component of weathering an emotional storm is being able to recognize early on when life feels out of control.


It’s easy to miss or minimize the signs of stress. It’s only when we tune into ourselves that we can accurately measure how we’re coping. Noticing our feelings is helpful, but our bodies are also great measures of our emotional wellbeing.


Signs that life feels out of control:

  • Worrying
  • Crying
  • Trying to control people or situations
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling on edge
  • Isolating
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Obsessing about the same thing over and over
  • Avoiding
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Gastrointestinal issues (stomachache, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux)
  • Irritability
  • Anger


You don’t have to have it all together

There’s a lot of pressure these days to look like you’ve got it all together. Sometimes it’s hard to let down that fake smile and “I’m fine” mantra and admit that you’re not fine. I want to reassure you that it’s OK to be a hot mess sometimes. We all are. You just don’t want to pull up a chair and get comfortable. When you notice that you’re struggling and feeling out of control, focus on yourself. Prioritize self-care and self-compassion. Do things that restore your sense of calm.


Read more

Insomnia During Times of Stress, Anxiety, and Uncertainty

Journal to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

©2021 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo courtesy of Canva.com


Sharon Martin, a licensed counselor and psychotherapist in Northern California, specializes in helping adult children of alcoholics and others who struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and self-criticism. She has a private psychotherapy practice in CA where she is available for online counseling. Sharon is also the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and write the blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today.

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