What to Do When Things Feel Out of Control

The writer Erma Bombeck famously wrote, “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn't get you anywhere.”

Maybe things are stressful at work. Or money is tight. Maybe you just had an argument with a family member. Or you’re worried about whether your child is vaping. Or all of the above.

When things feel out of control, it can help to take a step back and determine what you have control over, and what you don’t.

This exercise is all about determining what’s in your control and what’s out of your control. It’s about understanding where your worrying is helpful, and where it may just be making you feel worse.

Consider This Example

Mara’s worried her son Alex might be vaping. She doesn’t know for sure, but his friend just got in trouble for vaping in class. Mara has talked with Alex about the dangers of vaping, they’ve set some family ground rules, and Mara has a good relationship with her son.

What’s in Mara’s control?

  • She has prepared Alex with lots of information to help him make a decision about vaping
  • She’s created an open line of communication so Alex knows he can talk to her
  • She has set ground rules about vaping in their family

What’s out of Mara’s control?

  • The choices Alex makes day-to-day
  • How much Alex chooses to share with her
  • The people around Alex that may influence his decisions

Now You Try

  1. Make a list of everything that’s in your control about this situation. This can include conversations you’ve had or plan to have, ground rules you set as a family, the example you set at home, and more.
  2. Make a list of everything that’s out of your control, like the actions of your teen and more. A good way to tell the difference is to ask yourself, “Is there anything specific that I can do this week that doesn’t require a particular action or response from someone else?” For example, you can control the conversation you start, but you can’t control how it goes. You can control which substances you choose to use or avoid, but you can’t make those choices for someone else.
  3. Read over both lists and see how you feel. At this point in the exercise, you may feel better seeing everything listed out. Or, you might feel more anxious looking at the things you can’t control. Don’t worry about your reaction. Just notice how you feel.
  4. Now, for the list of things that are in your control, create an action plan. What’s one specific thing you could try out this week?
  5. For the list of things that aren’t in your control, we’re going to practice acceptance. If something’s out of your control, you could worry for one minute or one year and the result would be the same. So, it’s best to focus your energy on acceptance and taking steps to support yourself.

Take another moment to notice how you feel. You’ve got an action plan for the things that are in your control, and supportive tools for the things that aren’t. While this situation is never easy, we hope that this exercise leaves you feeling more equipped to handle worries in a way that works for you.