How To Stop Caring About Things You Can’t Control
By: Jessica Saxena
Updated February 11, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Alicia Fiske, LMSW
It's often hard not to care about things you can't control-whether your partner will do well on a work presentation, what the weather will be like for our flight, and so on. The problem is that caring about things you can't control takes your time, zaps your energy, and keeps you from working on the things you can control. To reduce your stress and start leading a happier life, you need to let go and stop caring about those things you can't control. It might be easier said than done, but all you need are the right tools. We'll discuss these later in the article.
Where to Start?
The first step is to recognize what you can and cannot control. From there you can start to take steps to stop caring about them.
Recognizing Things You Can't Control
There are certain situations you simply cannot change. This doesn't mean you should just give up on everything and drift along, allowing anything to happen to you and your life. Believing you control nothing is just as unhelpful as believing you control everything. It takes an understanding of that balance to find a place of true happiness in your life. Here are some of the things you cannot control:
- What other people think. The only thoughts you can ever really know are your own. As for other people, you can only know what they communicate to you. And if they are communicating thoughts you don't care for, guess what? There is nothing you can do about that. You can try to convince them with your points, but you cannot simply change their mind because you want to.
- The past. You have some measure of control over your own future, even though you don't control everything. But the past, that is something you have no control over. It is done. If you've made mistakes or have regrets, as is the case for all of us, the only thing you can do is make decisions about how they affect your present and your future.
- What-if scenarios. Your future is in part determined by your actions. But it is also determined in part by the actions of others, which you can't know ahead of time, let alone control. Instead of focusing on what everyone else will think or do, focus on what you think and what you are going to do. Taking the focus off the uncontrollable variables (other people) and putting it on a more controllable variable (yourself and your decisions) will greatly reduce your anxiety.
How to Stop Caring in Healthy Ways
There are many strategies for learning to stop caring about so many things you can't control, and as a result, reduce your stress.
Of course, we can influence others. And one of our best opportunities to do so is to ensure that we are being who we want to be. Often, the characteristics that are the most frustrating and offensive to us, are those which we are guilty of ourselves. So it is always a good practice to turn our attention to ourselves as soon as we realize we are annoyed with someone else. Awareness is critical to making changes in ourselves. That about which we are unaware, we cannot control. Stated another way, that about which we are unaware of in ourselves, will control us. Sometimes, just gaining awareness of a tendency in ourselves is all we need to choose to think or act differently.
Change Your Perspective
Another helpful concept is that while it is impossible to simply change our feelings, we do have a much greater capacity to change our thoughts, perspectives, the meaning we attach to specific events, our conclusions, expectations, etc. It may be safe to conclude that much of the disappointment, hurt, offense, sadness, anger, etc. we experience is a result of unmet expectations. So if we can change our expectations, we will be able to dramatically decrease the negative feelings that result from experiencing unmet expectations, right?
Track Your Feelings
You may have heard it said that thoughts are rational and feelings are irrational. I understand why people say this, but I submit that it is the opposite. While there are some biochemical exceptions to this rule, the majority of the time, you must have 'cognition' (thought, interpretation, evaluation, perception, expectation, belief, etc.) before you experience any feeling. So while you, and certainly others, may not initially understand why you feel the way you do, if you track the feeling back to the cognition, the feeling will make total sense! However, the same cannot be said about the cognition that informed the feeling. Our thoughts, impressions, conclusions, etc. can be astoundingly inaccurate, illogical, or based upon incomplete or flat out wrong information. Thoughts inform feelings, which lead to actions. Therefore, there is a logical progression from what we are thinking, or telling ourselves, to how we feel, to the behavior we choose.
This is actually great news because while it is impossible to simply tell ourselves to not feel the way we feel, we can absolutely change the way we think and how we talk to ourselves. We have a far greater ability to dramatically impact our own internal reality than we usually realize. As we raise awareness of what we are telling ourselves, we should work to ensure that it is accurate, reasonable, rational, and optimistic. That process will automatically change how we feel, which then changes how we behave.
Accept That Life Is Uncertain
Another option, which is related to our ability to control how we interpret a given situation, is accepting that life is uncertain and recognizing that some surprises are actually positive. In truth, you're just as likely to be surprised by a positive outcome as a negative one. You just have to learn to recognize the positive when it happens instead of focusing on the negative. Accepting a situation does not mean that you have to like it, rather it means that you stop fighting it. And that releases you from the suffering.
Sometimes you'll run into a problem that's simply out of your control. It can be easy to think, "This isn't fair," or, "I shouldn't have this problem," even though those ways of thinking only make the pain worse. Radical acceptance refers to a healthier way of thinking during these situations. Instead of focusing on how you would like something to be different, you will recognize and accept the problem or situation as it is. Remember, accepting is not the same as liking or condoning something. Learning to accept the problems that are out of your control will lead to less anxiety, anger, and sadness when dealing with them.
Try Keeping a Worry Box
The 'Worry Box' strategy can be quite helpful in effectively addressing ruminating thoughts about something over which you have no control.
First, clarify whether you have control over the issue you are worrying about. For instance, you have an important assignment due for work tomorrow you have not completed, so are feeling anxious. It would not be appropriate or helpful to try to stop feeling anxious. Rather, you need to complete the assignment, right? So these sources of anxiety might be entered on a to-do list and completed.
But when you identify that you are worrying about something you have no control over, or should not take action on, then you have confirmed that your anxiety or worry is unproductive and unhealthy. For these types of worry, you might try an activity called the "worry box." These are the steps for this activity:
- When you realize you are worrying about something you shouldn't act on, jot it down on a small piece of paper, about the size of a Post-it note, or a 3x5 card, cut in half.
- Place all of the little slips of paper into a special box you have affectionately dubbed your "worry box." This should be a small enough box to be kept out of sight, like under your bed, in the back of your closet, or in a drawer.
- Assign yourself specific times to have permission to pull out your worry box, and obsess over all the slips of paper you have collected since your last worry session. It is important to schedule these at least slightly less often than you typically find yourself engaged in unproductive worrying. So, for instance, if you tend to have a few times each day when you notice yourself worrying for no good reason, then you might allow 15 minutes every other day to pull out your worry box contents. Be sure to set an alarm so you do not spend more time than you have allotted for this activity.
- Then be careful to extend the scheduled times out further and further as you notice you are worrying less each day.
- Once you come across a slip of paper with something written on it that no longer concerns you, dispose of it.
Regularly moving your body is not only good for your body, it also helps you improve your mood (thank you, endorphins) and your self-control. Taking a walk when feeling overwhelmed can help reset your mood, help give you a sense of control, and get you back on the right track.
Taking a break to focus and control your breathing can help you relax and instill a sense of peace in you. It can also help you remember there are things you can control and minimize your focus on the things you cannot.
Writing out your thoughts can help you process them and understand them better. As you are writing down your thoughts you may realize that the things you can't control are less important and that other things are worrying you that you can control and address.
Get Quality Sleep
Sleep is needed to keep us in a healthy mental state and to improve the way we experience life. Make sure you get at least 7-7.5 hours per night, and you'll feel more resilient and able to tackle the issues that come your way.
Being thankful for the things that are going well in your life can help you find more to be grateful for every day. Practicing gratitude regularly can help you feel more in control of your life and the things that you can't control will begin feeling less overwhelming.
How BetterHelp Can Support You
No matter how much effort you put into not caring, sometimes we just need that extra bit of help from someone trained and experienced. This is where talking to a professional can be helpful. BetterHelp has licensed, certified counselors that have helped others with this same issue in the past. They will help you understand what it is you are feeling and help you discover why you are feeling this way. There’s been a lot of discussion about the veracity of online counseling, particularly with the advent of the COVID-19 outbreak. A recent publication considered the effectiveness of online counseling over the last two decades, reiterating that studies have found that for most psychological issues, virtual counseling is just as effective as face-to-face counseling. They also noted that many people feel safer and more comfortable in their own space and, when writing, may get to their issues in a more concise way.
The study pointed out some practical issues that may seem obvious as well: attending a session online takes out what might be a lengthy commute to an office and removes the potential stigma of someone finding out you’re going to said office. Plenty of people have already given BetterHelp a try for similar issues:
“Christine is a great listener and helps me keep things in per[s]pective. If I get overwhelmed, stressed, or feel out of control, she opens my eyes to the source and offers couping stratigies to deal with it. I enjoy our conversations and she helps me reme[m]ber to be grateful for the good in my life and in the world instead of me always focusing on the negatives and what ifs. She has been a God sent and I appreciate her guid[a]nce and support.”
“Irene has always been attentive, intuitive, and creative in her efforts to help me better understand my-self, and deal with both the trauma of the past and the future! I have enjoyed every moment we speak and she helps elucidate on the things I do not notice, and helped me to have better control of sinking feelings! Absolutely a life changing experience.”
As frustrating as it can be dealing with things that are out of your control, know that there is at least one thing within your control-the way you respond.
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