How to Respond to Things You Can’t Control: Finding Acceptance and Ways to Cope

Introduction

One of the harshest truths of life is that there is so much that is beyond our control. As human beings, we associate control with power, so not feeling in control can feel incredibly disempowering and frightening. 

The idea that there is so much in life that’s out of our hands can cause a great deal of stress to people and can either push them into becoming overly controlling of every aspect of their lives or overly anxious. Neither state of mind is positive or beneficial, so learning to accept things you cannot control is crucial for long-term happiness and stability. 

Ways to Cope With Things You Can’t Control

If you feel like you have very little or no control in your life, it might feel as though you are trapped at sea in a boat with no sails. However, there are ways to cope which can help you regain a sense of agency in your life. 

Acknowledge your feelings

Feeling afraid, anxious, uncertain, and worried are normal feelings that everyone experiences in response to events and situations in life. No matter the circumstances, give yourself the space to feel what you’re feeling without judgment or criticism. 

Trying to wrestle with or suppress your feelings will only worsen your anxiety and feeling of not being in control. On the other hand, allowing yourself to experience whatever emotions you might be feeling allows you to acknowledge them; which is the first step to managing them.

Make the distinction between things you can and can’t control

Feeling constantly anxious and worried can take up a lot of mental energy, leaving one feeling drained. This can have a knock-on effect on your physical energy, your enthusiasm for life, and your relationships with friends, family, and co-workers. 

This is why it’s imperative to make a clear and concise distinction between situations that you do have control over, and situations that you don’t, to utilise and conserve your mental capacity.

Focus on the things you can control

The reality of life is that there are many things we have no control over. We can’t control what people think or do, we can’t control the weather and nature, and we can’t control global-scale events. But there are also many things that we can control, such as our behaviours, our work ethic, our motivations, the relationships we choose, and our feelings and actions. 

Making the active decision to begin focusing on what you can control, instead of focusing on what you can’t, will redirect any anxious energy or worry you might be feeling in a more productive direction, which can help you to feel more empowered and confident in your abilities.

Shift your mindset from focusing on problems to solutions

Worrying about and overthinking things can become a habit, like a stuck record playing the same message over and over. Learning to recognise when your mind begins to go down this rabbit hole can help you to break the pattern and manage stressful feelings more efficiently. 

Try to take note when these familiar thoughts and worries begin to form in your mind and shift your focus from worrying about problems to creating solutions. For a problem that is causing you to worry, try to think of the worst possible outcome, and then brainstorm how you will deal with it if it happens. 

Use positive affirmations 

For situations that you don’t have any control over, using positive affirmations for problem-solving can be extremely helpful. Phrases that reinforce your strength, capability, and resilience can help to fight off negative thoughts that might pop up in your mind. 

Whatever the situation might be, phrases like “I will be able to cope with this if it happens” and “I will do the best I can” can help you to train your brain to conceptualise problems in a less anxiety-inducing and more proactive way. 

Find ways to manage your stress and anxiety

During trying times, or when you’re feeling overwhelmed, having healthy coping mechanisms in place can help you stay on track and better manage your stress and anxiety. Things you can do include:

  • Visiting with or reaching out to talk to a close friend or family member.
  • Keeping a journal where you can safely and privately express your thoughts and feelings.
  • Exercising for redirecting your focus and reducing feelings of stress.
  • Making time for activities that you enjoy doing. 
  • Focusing more on the present moment instead of ruminating over past or future events.
  • Reaching out to a mental health professional if you feel like you are not coping.

Conclusion

Remember that acceptance is not the same as giving up or passivity. Accepting that you cannot be in control of everything in your life is a means of moving forward and releasing yourself from feeling trapped in a vicious cycle of feeling helpless, anxious, and unable to take action. 

By accepting the things you can’t control and turning your attention toward the things you can, you can empower yourself to take on more and enjoy a better quality of life, with the knowledge that you have the ability and coping mechanisms to handle any curve balls that life may throw at you.

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