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How to Cope When You Don't Have Control

by Laura Cerrone



hen I was in the third grade, I bought a survival guide book at the Scholastic Book Fair. It seems, even as early as nine years old, that I was preparing for the worst. While the fears of my youth centered on encountering quicksand pits, say, over, being assaulted or having our existence threatened by a vicious illness sweeping the planet… the fact is, it has remained.

Perhaps stranger than my childhood ideation of fear is the fact that I’ve been relatively calm and composed throughout this terrifying time in our history. Upon meditating on this thought, my belief is that during my whole life, I have always been preparing for the worst possible outcome. And, as it turns out, we are in the reality of the worst possible outcome.

I’m not alone in this feeling. As I’ve adjusted to cope despite having no control, other high anxiety sufferers have also shared online that they are doing relatively well. It was a react post by the TikTok account AdvancedBitches, a mental health professional from Texas, where she commends another user’s therapist for discussing why this is the case. The user alygwiseoffical talks about how catastrophe is her normal state of thinking and seeing everyone react in this same way has been validating. She continues with the acceptance I’ve also felt comforted by, ‘it is what it is.” 

However, not everyone’s mental health allows them to react in this way. 

Here are some ways professionals suggest coping and how other quarantined individuals have learned to deal with the current situation.

One of Amy Morin’s pieces of advice from Psychology Today is to determine what you can control. She continues to write that when you feel your world spiraling out of control what may be your best course of action is to take a minute to define what you can control. As she puts it, “all you can control is your effort and your attitude.” 

Defining what you can control can be as simple as cooking up a nourishing meal for you and your family, sending a message to someone you care about letting them know you are thinking of them, or finishing a book you’ve been putting off.

In a 2016 article from Bustle, author Toria Sheffield sheds further light on coping practices. She cites vulnerability and courage expert Brene Brown, on checking your narrative. In this practice, both Sheffield and Brown encourage you to be mindful of what you are telling yourself. We shouldn’t linger on thoughts about what we could have done better in a situation, instead, recognize those thoughts and make a conscious decision to turn away from them.

BetterHelp’s Jessica Saxena, reviewed by LMSW Alicia Friske, offers two physical ways we can cope. In the article, they share that by writing down how we feel we are bringing cognition to our actions and thoughts. They go on to describe this action with, “As we raise our awareness of what we are telling ourselves, to ensure that it is accurate, reasonable, rational, optimistic, etc., that will automatically change how we feel, which then changes how we behave.”

Another solution Saxena and Friske offer is to keep a worry box. This strategy is a multistep process which starts off clarifying the issue you cannot control. After you have identified this, you are confirming that your anxiety is unproductive. From there, jot down on a piece of paper this concern, slip it into a designated ‘worry box’ and tuck it out of sight. They continue that you can examine the box periodically, but assign times to this and only allow yourself to do this in short increments. You can begin to extend the time spent reviewing the papers when you feel more comfortable visiting them. Once you come across a paper that no longer concerns you, toss it out.

For quarantined individuals, coping mechanisms are often rooted in keeping busy, taking time to go outside and communicating with loved ones in any way possible. “Setting up a routine has been really helpful for me, and making sure I'm forcing myself to get out of the house to be in the sun or go for a bike ride or walk is also important. Videoing and calling my friends and family has helped me feel more connected as well,” says Valentina Os. 

For Laurie Marin, her coping strategies also revolve around planning for the day and recognizing situations that would alter her mood. She states, “I’m doing things that will only improve my mood and staying away from self-deprecating thoughts.” She cites taking breaks from social media has also helped alleviate the strain.

For New York City-based hospitality worker Michael Miranti, he lends that leaning into doing the things he loves as key points in keeping sane. While his employment outlook is grim during this time, Miranti says “I'm trying to do things that I love. Cooking, listening to new music, reading, working out, cleaning.”

It’s important during these times to reach out to your community and be open about how you feel. It’s okay to not be okay. Reaching out to others and focusing on what you can control, and the things you can do during this time, will help keep you centered and moving forward.

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