3 Strategies For When Life Gets Out of Control

Often, it feels like I never really have a good handle on controlling a lot of what is going on in my life. Complete life-upheavals happen, and sometimes it feels like they all happen at once. In 2017 my job, my personal life, and my living situations were all sources of stress and never seemed predictable, but after going through a towering pile of bullshit, I’ve gained some clarity as to how to manage problems that initially seem unmanageable.

The challenge is that when faced with a lot of problems, I feel overwhelmed which in turn paralyzes me and renders me incapable of doing anything, even the most basic of steps that would begin to help. Because the problems seem so big, my initial attempts seem feeble, meaningless, and ineffective. Last year I got a medical bill totaling to thousands of dollars, and as a low-income retail employee who struggled to responsibly buy groceries every week, it felt like there was no way I would be able to pay off these bills.

However, there are some strategies you can use to combat overwhelm and unpredictability when life spirals out of control.

Categorize Your Problems as “Within My Control” or “Outside My Control”

In the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans, the authors touch upon the issue of “gravity problems.” There are some issues that you cannot fight, no matter hard you try. Exerting effort to combat these problems would be a waste. For example, retail jobs don’t pay very much. There isn’t very much you can do to change this. Sure, you can ask for a raise, you can maximize your value as an employee, but retail caps out at a certain point and you realistically won’t make very much money working as a ring-out clerk. This is a “gravity problem”, or a reality that will continuously fight against you and erode away all of your efforts to fight it.

When you accept that limitations exist, you can focus more on the things you can change. I can’t realistically make more money to pay off my medical bills in the short term, but I know I can save at least $200 a month by bringing a bag lunch to work. I also know that my medical providers offer payment plans to space out bill payments, and I know that if I bug my insurance company, they may be able to help me offset the costs. These are all solutions that aren’t fighting gravity. They address issues that are within my control. Already, I’m doing better at tackling my debt.

Check In With Your Friends

I don’t like asking for help, which is one of my greatest flaws. So many of my problems could be solved if I just reached out and asked my friends for a little perspective. In the past year, I’ve gotten better at calling my friends and family when things get difficult, and there have only been benefits. My friend E points out that often jump to conclusions.

“Have you ever read The Phantom Tollbooth?” he asked me. “There is an island called ‘Conclusions’ that is very easy to get to, and very hard to get off of. And I find that you are very prone to getting stuck on this island.”

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By talking to my friends, I’ve recently been able to sort out a lot of stress regarding my housing situation. As an emotional human being, I tend to react instead of analyze when I am freaking out, and my friends at end up help to articulate the issues more clearly which makes them exponentially easier to solve. I’m often afraid my friends will feel like I expect them to solve my problems, but this is never the case. They always are very equipped to talk me through the struggles which allows me to find a reasonable solution with their help.

Recognize When You Have Done Enough

The worst part about being stressed about ongoing life problems is staying up late at night wondering if you’ve forgotten something. It’s good to be attentive to all of the things that must be done to get back on top of your life, though worry becomes more of a hindrance than a help when it takes away from your day to day life. Instead of letting worry snowball and destroy other parts of my day, I constantly remind myself “There is nothing else I can do right now.” This brings me peace and helps me rest and focus. When I am at work, I know I am worried about what I will do if I get evicted, but at work there is nothing I can do about the problem, so I accept it and continue working on the task at hand. When I can do something, I do it. Many times though (for example after 6pm when offices are closed), I know that I can’t do very much other than make lists of the remaining loose ends that need to be tied. Knowing that you did at least one thing to move forward helps, and knowing when you are allowed to relax will benefit your mind in the long term.

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