How to Manage Stressors You Can’t Control

If you’re like most people, you may be finding that there are more elements causing stress in your day-to-day life than ever before.  We’re living in an information age where we have constant access to news, media and up to the minute communication.  This often causes us to feel like we’re walking the line between staying informed and being completely overwhelmed.  Whether it’s concern over geopolitics, the latest report on the pandemic, or news from a loved one who is struggling, it can feel difficult to know how to take in all of this information that causes us stress and figure out how to process it. 

What can we do when we realize that stress beyond our control is taking over our day and consuming our thoughts? Here are a few tips to consider:

1.  Assess your Stress. 

Find a quiet moment to sit and make some notes or talk to a trusted source about everything that is causing stress in your current life. Identify which stressors feel within your control to change and which feel out of your control. If a stressor feels within your control, you may apply problem-solving and decision-making skills to alleviate the stressor. If the stressor is out of your control, take some of the following steps to mitigate the impact of the stressor while knowing you can’t change it directly.  

2.  Moderate Consumption. 

Many of us spend most of our day connected to our desktop, laptop, phone, TV, radio, watch, etc. in a way that gives us constant access to information about elements in our lives that are causing us stress. To manage this, consider setting boundaries around how much you are accessing information that adds to your stress. Ideas might be to only watch/read the news once a day in the morning or evening. Or take a break from social media during the week and only check in on weekends. Or plan to check in with a loved one once a day or every few days rather than constantly throughout the day. Give yourself breaks from consuming more information that will add to your stress while still staying updated enough to feel confident that you’ll be aware of any changes to the situation when necessary.  

3.  Schedule Time for Worrying. 

We tend to push stress that we can’t control aside.  We do this so that we can get through our days as functionally as possible rather than letting the stress overwhelm us.  This is especially important for being able to get through work effectively, care for ourselves and our families, and tend to daily needs. 

However, a problem arises when we reach a quiet moment, usually at the end of the night when we’re trying to sleep, where the stress can’t be pushed aside anymore and starts consuming us with worry thoughts that race and expand and keep us up.  Rather than becoming inundated by stress at the end of the night, schedule a time during your day or week to tend to everything that is worrying you. Sit down with a cup of tea and a journal or recorder and map out everything that has been adding stress to your life. You don’t need to seek solutions for all of it, just give yourself time to take it all in and think though all of the stressors that feel beyond your control and then put them away and go about the next part of your day, planning to tend to stressors again during your next worry time.  
 

4.  Take your Prescription. 

When you have stress that is beyond your control, consider stress management to be prescriptive. As in, ‘When I have increased stress, this is my prescription for treating it’. Your stress prescription could be physical exercise, taking a walk or bath, meditation or muscle relaxation, talking to a friend, taking a nap, playing with your pet, getting a massage or anything else that helps you relax and feel that stress has returned to a manageable level. Take time to learn what stress management tools work best for you so that you’re ready to take your stress prescription any time you need it.  
 

5.  Talk it out.

If your stress level starts to feel overwhelming, consider talking to a professional. A therapist can help you sort out which stressors you have control over changing and which are beyond your control and can help you strengthen your stress management prescription. A therapist may be familiar with some of the stressors you’re facing. They can provide empathic support or may be a helpful outside observer.  For more information on connecting with a therapist, contact the PRO Medical Counseling Center at (425) 376-3320.
 

6.  Say Goodnight.

Take a cue from the beloved children’s book Goodnight Moon and create a ritual around putting away stressors for the day and closing your house for the night. Imagine closing the doors and shutting the blinds, tucking yourself and your family into bed and leaving all the stressors of the world outside your home until morning. Remember that there are many things that are going well in your life and that you can rely on when stress becomes intense. Rest your mind knowing that everyone is secure under your roof, and all will be fine within the safety of your home. Remind yourself that all is well and closed and quiet for the night and the rest of the world can wait until you’re ready to face it again tomorrow.  

If you need extra support, contact me, Madeline Kilpatrick, LICSW at mkilpatrick@hnguyen

Written by: Madeline Kilpatrick, LICSW

Madeline specializes in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which helps clients learn new skills to manage painful emotions and decrease conflict in relationships. DBT focuses on mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. These skills improve an individual’s ability to tolerate negative emotions, manage intense emotions and strengthen relationships by improving the ability to communicate. Madeline has worked in the field of mental health since 2007.

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