Stress Causes: Not Taking Control Of Things We Can Control

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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This week, I’ve been focusing on how our mistaken ideas about what we can and can’t control frequently lead to stress and other problems in our lives.  In my first post, I pointed out that mistaken ideas about control are very common and that they can exist on both ends of the spectrum.  We can mistakenly try to control thing we are not easily able to influence. We can also fail to take control, even when we do have the powers to do so.

My second post this week explored how we can end up feeling stressed by trying to control the wrong things.  Today, I want to explore the other end of the spectrum—how we end up feeling stressed when we fail to take control over those things that are either completely or partially within our command.

The Biggest Problem With Understanding Control

The biggest problem we have with accurately sorting out what we can and can’t control is that we typically approach this question from an either/or mindset.  We tend to view stressful situations, events, and other aspects of our lives in black or white terms—yes, I can control this—or no, I can’t control this.

The truth, on the other hand, is that in any stressful situation, we do have control over some things, and we may not have control over others.  But it’s rarely the case that we have no control at all.

Suppose, for instance, that all your worldly possessions were wiped out by a massive flood or hurricane, and you’re feeling very stressed as a consequence. Obviously, you had no direct control over the events that just transpired, but once they happened, you do have significant control over how you are going to respond to them.  You can adopt a helpless victim stance, or you can choose to optimistically pick yourself up and move ahead with rebuilding your life.

For another example, suppose you are in a relationship that’s going downhill very fast.  While it’s true you may not be able to change or control the other person’s negative thoughts or feelings, you do have control over how you choose to address (or not address) whatever might be going on to diminish the relationship.  This may sound a bit simplistic and overly cavalier, but it’s true nonetheless.  We have enormous degrees of control over the quality of our relationships, but most of the time, we fail to exercise the many options that we clearly do have.

Control Of Your Own Thoughts And Emotions

Do you have much control over your own thoughts and emotions?  Once again, if you think of this question from an either/or perspective, you’re likely to arrive at a series of false conclusions.

Sure, there are some aspects of your thoughts that you can directly control.  For example, you can choose to place your focus on whatever you like.  Or you can say that you’re going to think about pink elephants, and then you can make yourself do so.  But there are many other instances where you have no control at all over the thoughts that automatically pop into your head or the emotions that instantly become triggered within your body.

Does this mean you have no control at all over your automatic thoughts and emotions?  Well, the answer turns out to be yes…and no.  You may not have direct control over your automatic thoughts and your triggered emotions, but once they do occur for you, you do have many choices about how you are going to respond to them.

You can choose to pay very close attention to your automatic thoughts, or you can choose to ignore them entirely.  You can choose to view your automatic thoughts as mostly being true, right, and correct, or you can take a more skeptical stance and examine them for possible deficiencies.  You can take the position that you are mostly a helpless victim of your triggered emotions, or you can learn how to better understand their root causes, which gives you tremendous power and leverage over them, instead of having your emotions have most of the power over you! (NOTE: if you want to learn how to do this, check out my Overcoming Negative Emotions advanced training course here.)

Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

I could go on and on about the issue of control and all the many ways it can produce stress in our lives.  But I just wanted to get you thinking about this topic, so you can continue to explore it on your own.

If any of my three blog posts this week have stimulated your curiosity and made you think about examples of how stress and control are related to your own life, please feel free to leave a comment below.  In any event, one last thing to consider is that you should always assume that you do have some degree of control over any situation in your life that is troubling you. And if you adopt this presupposition, you may be surprised to find out how realistic and true it really is.

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