How to stop caring about things you can't control
You may feel stressed about situations that are out of your control, such as the weather, how other people behave, or a delayed flight. Feeling stressed with these occurrences can be normal. However, if worrying impacts your everyday life negatively or causes you to perform compulsions to reduce stress, it may indicate an underlying issue, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or generalized anxiety disorder.
You may want to learn how to stop worrying about what you can't control, but you may not be sure how to go about doing this. In this case, there are several methods of treatment or lifestyle changes that might benefit you, such as therapy, medication, or radical acceptance skills.
Recognizing what you can't control
There may be situations that you aren’t able to solve or change. For those who often approach problems from a solution-based lens, these situations might feel stressful or cause worry.
Learning to identify which situations are out of your control may be the first step to learning to accept them. You can train this identification process like a mental muscle, and over time, you should be able to spot these situations far more easily throughout your daily life.
Possible situations that are out of your control could include the following.
The thoughts of others
As we can't read the thoughts in someone else’s head, you might not know what someone else thinks unless they communicate it. Additionally, people may lie or avoid divulging information. Trying to force someone else to communicate or believing you know what they believe might cause conflict or hurt.
Additionally, you may be unable to change someone else's mind or actions. If they are communicating an opinion you disagree with, it may cause further stress to attempt to lead them in a different direction or prove them wrong. If someone else chooses to act in an unhealthy way, it may be best to take control of your actions and set boundaries for yourself by leaving the situation or explaining what you will or won't accept.
You may be able to control some parts of your future. However, what we experienced as a child or what occurred in the past cannot be changed. Although you may repair past hurts or mistakes, ultimately, the action itself has already occurred, and you can’t control it. Making decisions to do better in your future can be a healthy way to handle stress about the past. You can also use positive affirmations to help keep your self-esteem high and forgive yourself for mistakes in your past.
Although you may be able to control some aspects of your future, unforeseen circumstances are often a variable in most individuals' lives. We might face conflict, loss, accidents, or disappointments caused by other people or circumstances out of anyone's control.
Instead of thinking about the worst-case scenario, focus on what you can control, such as your actions, outlook, and communication. Trying to guess what could occur in every situation in your life might cause more stress and could be a sign of OCD or generalized anxiety.
How to find acceptance for what you cannot change
Acceptance may effectively reduce fear, anxiety, or stress about what you cannot change in life. However, in the case of a mental health condition, such as OCD, further treatment with a mental health provider may be necessary for you to stop worrying and overcome anxious thoughts.
You may influence others through your actions. However, many experiences in life are unpredictable, and other people can be as well. Even if you find yourself being a positive example for others, you might lose sight of your actions and what you value. Being who you want to be may involve removing judgments about what is best or healthiest for others. For example, if you believe it is safest to stay away from the river on a hike, that doesn't necessarily mean another person agrees. They may enjoy dipping their toes in the water or throwing rocks. Both situations can exist simultaneously as you work to focus on your actions and allow others to face any consequences or joys from theirs.
If you feel irritated or anxious about an outside situation, create strategies and ask questions that allow you to look inward. Why does it make you feel this way? Do you feel you are trying to defend or care for others through your watchful eye? These thoughts may signify that you believe it is your responsibility to care for others or fix problems that arise, which may be caused by a childhood pattern developed over time.
Be aware of these judgments or beliefs and know that how you react to others is often something you can develop and change. Accept that other people may confront danger or consequences, but they also might confront joy or excitement from their actions. You are not necessarily at fault for either outcome. Each person is responsible for their own safety, well-being, and health.
Change your perspective
Although you may not be able to change your feelings, a situation, or the actions of others, you might be able to work to change your thoughts, perspectives, and the meaning you attach to events, conclusions, expectations, and opinions. You might feel hurt, sadness, fear, anger, or other emotions due to expectations. Changing your expectations of how things "should be" can be the key to changing your perspective and letting go of negative thoughts.
Track your feelings
Many individuals believe that thoughts are based on rationality and feelings are not. However, feeling emotions can be healthy. Studies show that suppressing your emotions can cause physical symptoms, illness, and mental unwellness. Often, thoughts occur before a feeling and can trigger a feeling.
While you may not initially understand why you feel the way you do, tracking the feeling back to the originating thought may help you understand it. For example, if you are feeling sad after a long day at work, you might remember that you felt sad earlier in the day when a coworker made a rude remark. The feeling may have lingered because you decided not to deal with it earlier. Once you know why you are sad, you might feel better able to change it.
However, thoughts, impressions, and conclusions may sometimes be inaccurate, illogical, or based on assumptions. In these cases, you might be experiencing a cognitive distortion. Learning which types of cognitive distortion you commonly experience can be beneficial in changing your actions or reactions to situations.
While you may not change how you feel about a situation, you can often change how you act. As you start to choose healthier actions, your emotions may also improve. Optimism can be essential in reducing pessimism, fear, or giving too much basis to your cognitive distortions. Research shows that optimism can decrease healing time after surgery and improve physical and mental health overall.
Practice radical acceptance
Observe that you are fighting reality or trying to change a situation that may be unchangeable.
Remind yourself that you cannot change the present situation. (Ex: "I know this was in the past, I cannot change it now.”)
Note that there may be a cause for this occurrence, whether it was within your control or not. Try not to blame yourself or others. Note that it happened, whether intentionally or not.
Use positive self-talk, mindfulness, and self-care, and practice accepting the factors out of your control.
If you reject acceptance, note that mentally and return to practicing acceptance.
List all the behaviors or actions you would take if you accepted the situation. Imagine how that would look and how you would treat yourself and others. Then practice acting that way, even if you don't believe it.
Allow all the things you feel, including sadness, disappointment, grief, or fear, to happen freely. Feeling your emotions can be healthy.
Note that life can be worth living, even if you are afraid or feel distressed.
Try a pros and cons chart of accepting or challenging the situation if you continue to struggle.
Talk to a counselor if you are unsure how to practice radical acceptance on your own.
Keep a "worry box"
The "worry box" strategy may be beneficial in addressing ruminating thoughts about a situation you cannot control. First, clarify whether you have control over the issue you are worrying about. For example, if you have an assignment due tomorrow and feel anxious about it, you may have control over that situation, and avoiding it further could be unhealthy.
On the other hand, if you are worried about what might occur on your flight the next week or whether your parents will be able to visit you for the holidays, these might be situations that are out of your control partially or entirely. In situations like these, try the worry box activity. Here's how to practice it:
When you realize you are worrying about a situation you can't control, jot it down on a small piece of paper. You can do more than one if you have more than one worry.
Place all the paper slips into a box that will serve as your "worry box." You might want to decorate the box to make it feel comforting. Try to find a box small enough to keep it out of sight.
Once you put your box back in its place, commit to keeping it out of your mind. Remind yourself that you will schedule time to consider these situations again later.
Extend the scheduled "worry times" further as you notice yourself placing less significance on your worries.
Once you come across a slip of paper with something written on it that no longer concerns you, dispose of it.
If you feel it would benefit you, bringing your worry box to therapy could allow you to talk through your worries with professional guidance and support. Therapy may be a space for you to openly discuss your worries and leave them at the door when you leave.
Regularly exercising can be valuable for your physical and mental strength and self-control. Taking a walk when feeling overwhelmed may allow you to take a break from your worries and think more profoundly about the reality of the situation. Exercise may also be able to help out with the physical symptoms of stress and worry, like muscle tension.
Taking a break to focus and control your breathing may help you relax. You might find that deep breathing helps you focus more on the moment, grounding your body and mind; this could reduce your anxiety. Studies show that ten minutes of mindfulness or meditation each day can be sufficient to improve mental health long-term.
Writing out your thoughts can help you process and understand them better. As you write about your worries, you might notice inconsistencies or cognitive distortions that you did not notice before. Reading through previous journal entries may also help you notice thought patterns you want to change or have changed. This could help you find more success in shifting your perspective in the future.
Get quality sleep
Healthy sleep habits can improve your overall health and help with the mental and physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder and other concerns. Ensure you get at least seven to eight hours per night, which is the recommended healthiest amount for adults.
Feeling thankful for positive influences in your life might help you find more to be grateful for daily. Practicing gratitude regularly can help you feel more in control of your life, and the things you can't control could begin to feel less overwhelming.
Counseling to manage what you cannot change
Suppose you struggle with frequent worrying, obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, or fear of what you cannot change. In that case, you may be experiencing an underlying anxiety disorder or mental health condition, such as OCD.
Several treatments are available for these concerns, such as exposure and response prevention (ERP) or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). These therapies often target cognitive distortions, obsessions, compulsive behavior, and making changes in your life. If you feel unsure about visiting a counselor in person, consider online therapy.
Online therapy is often more affordable than in-person counseling. Studies indicate that internet-based CBT for OCD and anxiety was more cost-effective and valuable overall than traditional treatment. If you're interested in trying an internet-based treatment method, consider contacting a therapist through a platform like BetterHelp.
Although there may be areas of your life that you cannot always control, you might find relief through several healing techniques, including counseling, meditation, radical acceptance, or creating a "worry box." If you're ready to work through your anxiety now, consider contacting a counselor to get started.
Other Commonly Asked Questions
Below are a few commonly asked questions regarding dealing with what you cannot control.
What Are Things You Can't Control?
You may be unable to control the following:
Future unforeseen events
Some physical traits, such as height
The actions of others
Whether accidents occur
How Do You Accept What You Cannot Control?
There are a few ways you can try to increase acceptance in your daily life, including the following:
Try to remind yourself that a situation does not have to be fair to be accepted
Write down what you can control, and focus on that
Practice mindfulness and meditation
Talk to a counselor
Practice radical acceptance
What Can I Control?
What someone may be able to control can vary per person and situation. However, you might be able to control the following:
Your skills (ex: learning a new language or skill, such as an instrument)
Who you associate with
Who you commit to
What's A Well-Known Quote About Control?
A quote you might have heard before about control is: "When you can't control what's happening, challenge yourself to control how you respond to what's happening. That's where your power is." –Unknown
How Can I Stop Stressing?
Stress can be natural and might benefit you in minor doses. However, if stress is overwhelming in your life, it may have negative health impacts. You may be able to target stress through the following methods:
Set goals to make changes where you can, such as pursuing higher education or making healthier choices
Get enough sleep, eat healthy meals, and exercise
Take time to unwind by participating in what you enjoy
Try to avoid substances, and reach out for help if you struggle to
Talk to someone you trust
Why Do I Always Think About The Past?
Thinking of the past can be normal. However, if it causes significant distress or stops you from feeling content in your life, it may be a problem. Often, individuals think about the past because of nostalgia or the feeling of missing someone or something. Another reason someone may think about the past is regret. When someone looks back at a regret or embarrassment, they may feel that they could've acted differently or wish they could change what happened. In these cases, learning from the regret and the actions you wish to change may help you avoid the same mistakes in the future.
How Do You Clear Your Mind?
There are a few ways to attempt to clear your mind of distressing thoughts, including the following:
Play soothing sounds, such as white noise or rain, ocean, forest, or fire sounds
Practice box breathing. As you breathe out, imagine all your worries escaping with your breath and floating off into a distant location
Try distracting yourself with a fun activity, a light-hearted TV show, or through a conversation with a friend
Try to substitute unwanted thoughts with another image, such as a picture of cute animals
How Do I Let My Thoughts Come And Go?
It might take time to combat self-doubt, catastrophic predictions, and other cognitive distortions when you feel focused on negative thoughts or out of control of your brain. However, there may be methods of giving your thoughts less control, such as the following technique:
When a thought occurs, acknowledge it, even if it feels distressing.
Let the thought repeat itself without judgment.
Try to move on to another thought.
If the negative thought returns, accept that it has returned and let it repeat itself.
Try again to move on to another thought.
Repeat this process until the original thought becomes less pressuring or loses the fear surrounding it.
If you need support in this process, reach out to a counselor for guidance.
If your repetitive thoughts are distressing voices, violent images, or urges that scare you, reach out for help as soon as possible. You're not alone, and there may be a treatment method to benefit you.
How Do I Stop Thinking About Someone?
You may struggle with recurrent thoughts about someone from your past or someone you care about. In this case, it may be possible to reduce these thoughts if they are distressing for you. Try the following techniques:
Cut contact with the individual if they are an ex or someone who was unhealthy in your life
Distract yourself with healthy habits and activities, such as swimming, running, hiking, or trying a new at-home activity
Try meditation to increase self-compassion
Spend time with friends and family or other people you enjoy
Speak to your therapist or doctor about a potential mental health treatment
How Do I Shut My Brain Off After Work?
When you get off work, school, or another stressful activity, consider practicing relaxation techniques to keep your mind off your duties. Remind yourself that you can focus on the worries of the workplace when you're at work. When you're at home, it may be time to focus your energy on your family, pets, or self-care. You can also try the following:
Spend your time unwinding with a relaxing hobby and tell yourself it is normal and okay to relax.
Exercise, eat healthily, and sleep at the same time each night.
Set five minutes each night to check work emails or messages, and then leave them for the morning.
Practice stress-relieving techniques like deep breathing.
Write down your worries to release them.
Drink a hot drink, such as hot milk, tea, or decaf coffee.
Take a hot bath or shower.
Wear comfortable pajamas and ensure your sheets are clean and free of debris. If your best is crowded with books, crumbs, or pillows, clean it up before you sleep. Reduce as much discomfort you might face during the night, such as heat, humidity, or loud noises, as possible.
If you still struggle to reduce stress and stop thinking about responsibilities at home, consider speaking to a counselor.
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