Woman worried
Mental Health

Coping with uncertainty: how to stop worrying about the things you can’t control

With so much uncertainty to deal with at the moment, knowing how to let go and ‘control the controllables’ has never been so important. Here’s how to do just that.

One of the most challenging parts of navigating life during the coronavirus pandemic has to have been the lack of control. Sure, things have been a little more dependable over the last couple of months, but with cases rising again and conversations about new restrictions circulating once more, it feels like once again we have no choice but to sit back and watch it all happen.  

But learning how to be comfortable in that ‘sitting back’ isn’t exactly easy. While self-care rituals, daily walks and new hobbies might have gone some of the way to helping you cope, it’s only human to be worried about everything that’s going on – even if, rationally, you know it’s completely out of your control.

So, what can you do if you’re finding it hard to stop worrying about the uncertainty of the pandemic? One of the most effective things you can do is learn to ‘control the controllables’, aka turn your focus towards the things you can change, rather than fret about those you can’t. 

That’s one of the topics explored in the e-book High Potential Hacks: The Positive Daily Behaviours Of The Highest Performing People from PUSH, a wellbeing and performance company that helps businesses to be “more human” and support their employees.

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Through a series of interviews with experts including Cheryl Telfer, a holistic nutritionist and wellness writer, Helen Tupper, co-founder and CEO of Amazing If and Charlie Craggs, award-winning author and trans activist, PUSH’s founder Cate Murden explores a series of accessible tools and hacks to make looking after your mind simple.  

In this extract* from the e-book, Murden speaks to Craggs and world class coach and international speaker Paul Mort about the tools we can all use to ‘control the controllables’ and cope with uncertainty.  

One of the most effective ways of managing conflicting and challenging times is knowing what you can and cannot control. As humans we often try to control everything around us, situations and people. Frankly, this is a recipe for disaster, anxiety and a sense of failure because we simply cannot control everything.

Attempting to do so can lead to real problems. It is far better to focus on what we can control and to leave the rest in the hands of fate, accepting that these things are presently beyond our reach. That might not be the situation forever, but at the moment we’re not worrying about the future – it is unwritten.

And let’s put the past behind us too. It has gone, and we cannot change it now. Instead, we are locking firmly on to the present, and what we can do to make each day better for us.  

Paul Mort, supercoach, says this about controlling the controllables: “I can’t change the past but I can change how I see it. The past is a moment and our imaginations fill in the gaps and make up all of the meaning around what happened… The thinking that keeps us glued to bullshit is our victim mentality, so put attention on your intentions. It’s up to you what you do about it.”

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“I always need to be in control, so how do I cope when everything is so uncertain?”

Trans activist Charlie Craggs also understands that control is about how you see and respond to a situation.

“It is important to understand you have the power to cultivate your own reality to some extent. You do have power over that. It is understanding that you do have some control over your situation. You can control some things. I had a close friend who died and while I cannot change that, I can control how I respond to the situation. I could be bitter but my friend would not want me to be bitter. A lot of us get comfortable with victimhood. It is hard to break out of that and take responsibility for your life in your own hands. But it can be done.”  

High Potential Hacks: The Positive Daily Behaviours Of The Highest Performing People is available to download now.
High Potential Hacks: The Positive Daily Behaviours Of The Highest Performing People is available to download now.

Knowing what you can and cannot control is an art, and it’s not always easy to let go of things you previously felt were important. It’s a bit like hoarding – once you get rid of the clutter you see how much more room you have in your life, and how much control you’ve taken back. 

How to reset the control balance

  1. Write down what you can definitely control, what you think you can control and what you definitely can’t control. Discard what you can’t control – these are no longer important. Of those things you think you can control, decide which are worth pursuing and which aren’t.
  2. Look at controlling your responses to people and situations. Do you snap back under pressure? If so, learn to take a breath before you give a measured response to a situation. Even a short amount of thinking time will help you focus on the positives.
  3. If lack of control is freaking you out, turn your attention to something else, sending your energy in a more positive direction.
  4. As author Viktor Frankl said in his famous book about surviving Auschwitz, you are always free to choose your attitude towards something. Instead of fearing loss of control, focus on changing your mindset around it.
  5. Learn to calm your mind through meditation or mindfulness. This will help you focus on more positive outcomes around situations you cannot control. 

It’s a human instinct to want to try and control things – especially when they stress you out – but by taking a step back and trying to focus on the things you can control instead, you’ll be in a better position to cope with uncertainty and stress both during the pandemic, and when life gets back to ‘normal’, too.

High Potential Hacks: The Positive Daily Behaviours Of The Highest Performing People is available to download for free now from the PUSH website.

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*the extract has been edited for length

Images: Getty/PUSH