Responding to Stress & Anxiety

Controlling What We Can Control: Responding to Stress & Anxiety

It’s hard to write something optimistic when you don’t know what others are going through…

It’s hard to write anything at all when you don’t know what others are going through.

But what I can tell you, is that each and every choice we make right now it is doing something to us all individually. Our choices will make or break us in this uncertain, unprecedented, and insanely overwhelming time. We will either learn more about ourselves and take control over what we can take control over, or we will let things happen to us and send ourselves into a spiral of stress, anxiety, and negative emotions.

What I mean is, we can choose to respond to our current situation a way that will help us or react to our current situation in a way that will hurt us.

Responding to Stress & Anxiety - Resilience

There’s a saying that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; it’s been bringing me some sense of peace and direction when I feel my anxiety start to take over my mind. I’d like to share it with you all in hopes it will do the same… it goes –

The only thing I can control is how I respond to the things that I cannot control.

I learned this saying/mantra/quote - whatever you would like to call it - from a patient of mine when I worked on a crisis detox unit in Central Phoenix. This patient had been struggling with addiction for much of their life, but in the recent years they had built up a great amount of time in recovery. They said they owed their recovery time to this saying and their ability to abide by it. They informed me that it’s something they recite when they feel a negative emotion (stress, anxiety, depression, fear, sadness, etc) and are triggered to use. They said that there have been times where their reaction to those negative emotions took the lead, and they did relapse, but by keeping this saying in the forefront of their brain - by writing it down, by talking to other’s about it, and by reciting it to themselves when ever they felt even the slightest bit uneasy - they were able to respond to their situations in a healthy way and make a choice that would be much more beneficial to the life they wanted. They chose to take control over the only thing they could take control over, which is their actions, and do something that they knew was going to be helpful, not harmful.

This poses true for each of us in this time. Though each of our situations are different and we have no idea what the next person is going through, our situations are similar in the fact that they are not in our control.

Now, what is in our control is how we respond. The choices that we make. How we choose to navigate this scary and uncertain time. Leaning on unhealthy coping strategies is most certainly going to be what most of us want to do. It’s a quick and easy escape from reality! (By unhealthy coping strategies I mean – using drugs or alcohol, smoking cigarettes or vaping, over eating or not eating at all, excessively watching TV or excessively using social media, etc.) In these times, as I said, it’s going to be very tempting to lean on those strategies, and maybe some of us are just on auto-drive and are doing them without even realizing, but nevertheless it is absolutely and totally possible to change those habits and patterns and make new ones… especially now, when we have the time to really focus on them.

Responding to Stress & Anxiety - Strength

So, first and foremost, when you start to feel those negative emotions roll in, the stress and anxiety start to build, or notice that you are using a negative coping strategy, remember to breathe.

Literally, breathe.

Breathe in through your nose for four counts and out through your mouth for four counts.

Do it as many times as it takes for a sense of calmness to set in and focus on nothing other than that. Then take a moment and say to yourself,

The only thing I can control is how I respond to the things I cannot control.”

Then do it. Take control. Take control of your thoughts and your actions and choose to live a mentally healthy life; one that you will be proud of and grateful to yourself for living.

If you are looking for positive coping strategies, things you can do after taking a couple deep breathes, please see below. I have provided some examples and ideas.

Lastly, if there is a chance the stressors in your life are in your control, I encourage you all to do research on what you can do for yourself. There is a great deal of aid out there right now for individuals who have been laid off, whose hours have been cut, or for those who have been put on furlough. Call your landlord, your mortgage lender, your banks, your student loan lenders, and the places in which you have bills due. Stay connected with your school if you are a student or a parent of a student. Gain all the knowledge you can.

Stay strong. Stay well. Stay mentally healthy. You’ve got this.


Examples and ideas of positive coping strategies (for individuals & families):

  • Clear your mind – Spend a couple minutes writing down everything in your head. It doesn’t matter how messy it gets, just get it out
  • Listen to music that is attached to good memories
  • Doodle!
  • Go for a 10-minute walk
  • Meditation – YouTube guided meditations and try some out; creative visualization is great!
  • Take a shower or a bath
  • Sit outside and enjoy the fresh air, leave your phone inside
  • Move your body – do some stretches, have a little dance party, ride a bike, shoot some hoops, etc.
  • Facetime/video chat/call someone who you’ve been meaning to connect with or haven’t spoken to in a while
  • Go through your closet, or entire house, and find things to get rid of – donate them or sell them online
  • Find some chalk and take your kids for a walk, write nice messages on the side walk for others to see
  • Break out the arts & crafts
  • Find a new book to read
  • Cuddle with your pet
  • Learn something new about the people in your household
  • Think of things you’re grateful for