When a problem arises, a lot of us have that urge to jump into fix it mode and solve the problem right away. I experienced this recently when I lost my credit card at a show I went to. Immediately my heart started pounding and a surge of adrenaline swept my body. My worries started spiraling quickly from “oh man, I can’t believe I lost my card” to “someone stole my card and they are currently racking up thousands of dollars.” Looking back now, I roll my eyes at this memory, though anxiety makes it hard for a lot of us to think straight.
The urge to cancel my card and fix the problem right away helped me feel more in control during a time where I felt out of control. These are the moments where a lot of us fall into impulsive unhealthy coping mechanisms such as fixing, avoiding, dieting, self-harm, and caretaking. All these things make us feel more powerful and that we can do something during times we feel small and helpless.
If I had been able to utilize some better skills and take some time to more thoroughly look around, I would have found my card lodged between my seat cushion in the car. Needless to say, I felt silly and relieved after discovering it. However, I did not find it till the next morning after I had a very sleepless night worrying about someone having my card.
Anxiety gets the best of us in many different situations. We all have our triggers or things that hit harder than others when they arise. Take some time to think about what topics are more sensitive to you and how you react when they happen. Many times, we fail to act the way we want when we’re flooded with emotions.
Luckily, there are certain skills we can practice to help our impulsivity when we have anxiety such as radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is the practice of:
1. Being able to see what you do and do not have control over in a situation
2. Letting go and finding some peace with what you can’t control
Most concepts in therapy are easier said than done. This takes a lot of practice. In the personal example I gave, I could have taken some time to feel my feelings without taking an action right away. After an adequate amount of time, moved on to thinking about what I could control. I could have taken some time to look a bit more before jumping right to the most severe step of cancelling my card. Then I would have to come to terms with the fact that I did all I could possibly do in that situation, and let go of what I couldn’t control. In my mind at the time, the belief that I could figure something out, that there was more to do somehow, kept me up at night.
This inability to let go and know that there are many situations where we can’t do anything or are very limited in what we can do, causes a lot of extra pain on top of an already difficult situation. In the moment, it feels so much better believing we have the ability to do something. However, this actually prolongs our suffering due to us continuing to go over and over in our heads instead of coming to terms with the fact that we did all we can. We just have to wait and see.
Of course that sounds so scary though. Who wants to believe we don’t have any control in situations? But the truth is there are going to be situations where we don’t, and trying to pretend otherwise extends our anxiety. If we can get to a place where we can accept (not like, but accept) a situation for what it is, we can move on and use our emotional energy in more healthy ways.
Try practicing radical acceptance with smaller things first such as not being able to control traffic.
1. Have awareness of the anxiety or stress it may bring up and validate this.
“I notice traffic always makes me feel anxious and grip the wheel really hard. It makes sense I worry about being late.”
2. Think about some options you may or many not have.
“I could try another route, though that may end up taking more time.”
3. Accept what you can’t control
“There’s really not much else I can do, so I guess I’ll try and make the best of this extra time in my car.”
Without radical acceptance, someone may feel angry or anxious the whole car ride thinking about how much they don’t like what’s happening. They may even find themselves driving unsafely to try to control an uncontrollable situation.
After practicing with smaller things, move onto bigger things and start noticing all the progress you’ve made in reducing your anxiety. When we are able to release control and let go, we find our lives feeling less stressed, having less anxiety, and being more accepting of ourselves and the world.
Written by Devan of SafeHeart Counseling. Devan is the founder and owner of SafeHeart Counseling, which provides therapy services to children and teens. SafeHeart Counseling specializes in working with eating disorders, trauma, and anxiety.