Control is an interesting topic. I don’t think it’s been at the forefront of our thoughts until recently with the pandemic, which has caused us to be and feel out of control in almost every area of our lives. For most of us, our lives have done a 360-degree turn as government mandates have resulted in work from home policies, closure of non-essential businesses and activities and even visiting friends and family. All of this is done to try and get ahead of the virus that is causing such massive upheaval.
Our lives look very different from 6 months ago. This type of extreme change can make us feel out of control, which can result in panic attacks and anxiety. Our brains are on overload and don’t know how to process all of the changes, most of which we didn’t choose. This equation can then produce anxiety. Everyone I speak to over the past many months feels anxious at some level. What can we do to help our brains feel more in control to reduce the anxiety?
We need to look for the areas in our lives where we do have control. I know for some this seems like an impossible task. Wearing masks is an essential tool for controlling the spread of COVID. NO ONE likes to wear a mask. When I’m working in the hospital I have to wear two at one time to see patients. This is not a good situation. However, when I’m not seeing patients I get to only wear one. I know that wearing two masks protect me and the patient, but I have to remember it is time-limited. This is what I tell myself to keep calm so my brain doesn’t overload. A way to gain control in the mask situation is to wear a mask that you like. Masks are now the new fashion statement. Get fun ones that make you happy. We have control over the look of the mask, so get creative.
Another way to gain control over your life is to make a list. One side of the page is a list of things you don’t have control over, but the other side of the list is the things you DO have control over. This helps you let go of the things that you don’t have control over, while at the same time helping you focus on the things you DO have control over. For example, I have control over what I eat, different ways of exercising, what I read and watch on TV, playing games with my kids, going on walks in the park with a friend, what clothing I wear with a matching mask and how I want to structure my day. I have control over myself by wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer, and washing my hands. I, unfortunately, do not have control over others to wear a mask. This is just one of a few of the ways that I am in control of my life.
Yes, I would love to be able to go to a broadway show or see a movie at the movie theater or go on a wonderful vacation to Europe. These activities are not an option at the moment. However, due to the wonderful weather, I have rediscovered hiking, biking through Central Park with my boys and picnicking. Yes, a trip to Europe sounds fabulous right now, but a bike ride on a beautiful summer day is good enough for now. I want to encourage you all to take time to make a list to see where you have the control in your lives. Post this list where you can see it often, so when your brain is overloading you can help reset it to calm by knowing what your choices are. If your brain continues to overload and is unable to see where the control is in your life, please reach out to me or another therapist for support. These are difficult times and I am here to support you.