When I feel out of control in life, my instinct is to do everything I can to control, well, everything.
Growing up identifying as a perfectionist, I liked doing things my way and I liked doing them “perfectly.” If someone gave me notes after missing a day of school, rather than taking the copied notes and putting them in my folder, I would rewrite the notes to my liking. I prefered to be in charge of school projects and ultimately having the final say of the final product before handing it over. I HATED passing tasks along to a coworker, even though my plate was so full everything was falling on the floor. I would waste so much time focusing on making sure EVERYTHING was done “perfectly” and blowing EVERYTHING up to be bigger than it needed to be in the process. Doing things exactly the way I wanted them to be done was one of my ways of feeling in control, especially when everything was feeling out of control.
This aspect of control is something I am actively working on right this very moment. When I have a lot going on, my brain wants to do everything it can to feel in control of all of those things. And for nearly my entire life, I have dealt with feeling out of control by doing unhealthy, unproductive things. This is really the first time in my life that I am learning how to actually deal with what I am feeling head on.
My plate is currently pretty full, between moving to a new state, getting used to a new job, starting a blog, studying for my personal training exam, learning how to live with my significant other, getting used to a schedule again after going without one for months. Not to say any of these things are bad or negative, it’s just a lot (and I have to keep reminding myself that I chose these things for my life). I am working on balance and trying not to overwhelm myself (because usually that’s what I tend to do).
Rather than turning to my unhealthy unproductive methods when I start feeling overwhelmed, I have been working on untangling WHY I am feeling the way I am feeling. I hate to say that sometimes in the midst of my frustrations I lash out on the people closest to me and 96% of the time it's on Eric. It will come out in telling him exactly how he should be whisking the eggs, how he should be cleaning the sink, how he should be folding the clothes, or making the bed. It comes out when our plans get shifted and my day of productivity is now reordered. All of these things that I have asked for help with but can’t let go of how I want them to be done. Not only is this offensive to Eric, because he wants to help with chores in OUR apartment but I end up doing everything or redoing everything he's already done. What does that do for anyone except provide satisfaction to my internal control freak?!
After having my controlling tendencies pointed out to me several times, I have started doing the following:
1. When I feel that dreaded overwhelming pit in my stomach I stop and breathe.
Literally, I stop what I am doing and take a couple of those really big buddha belly breaths. It helps me loosen up some of that tension and gives me a few minutes to clear the fog. Meditation/yoga can be so great for this, to separate yourself from everything and just concentrate on your feelings/thoughts/breath. I have come to some profound realizations while busting out Warrior II.
2. I make a list of my “to-do’s.”
Usually a physically hand written list helps me see everything I have to do that day or that week.
3. Scan the list.
I look at my list to identify if there is a single task or if it’s the entirety of the list itself that is causing me to feel overwhelmed.
4. If I identify it’s one task stressing me out, I come up with a plan.
If it is one particular thing (for me its been studying for the monstrosity called my personal training exam) rather than procrastinate/not deal with it, find a way to break it down into bite size chunks (especially if you don’t know where to start).
Don’t set these huge expectations for yourself, come up with a realistic plan, and be gentle with yourself if you don’t completely follow through exactly the way you planned it. For me this means taking 2 hours a day (I have been making time before work, when my brain is the sharpest) and study as much as I can in that amount of time. If I don’t wake up in time, rather than saying “ah screw it, I didn’t get up for the 2 hours I gave myself,” go back to bed, then be angry with myself, stressed all day, and ultimately end up procrastinating some more. I say “well okay, I missed out on an hour so I will just do what I can in the remaining hour.”
If we really break down why we are stressed out, most of the time it’s self inflicted. Everything is going to be okay, trust yourself, and BE NICE. You will get a heck of a lot more done if you aren’t mean about it. Doing something is better than nothing.
5. If it is the entirety of the list, I ask "is there something i can delegate to someone else?"
THIS IS HARD FOR ME. This is when my internal control freak says “WOAH NOPE, I am doing all of this myself because if you give it to anyone else it won’t be done in the way I want it to be done.” BUT what I have learned is that when I try to do everything myself there are things I actually want to do that I end up not doing, or I try to do all the things and end up frustrated and completely exhausted and 10 times more overwhelmed at the end of the day. LET IT GO. Let someone else help (and don’t go back and redo everything once it’s done).
Over the years, I’ve also learned a few things about not letting people help you:
- If you keep telling someone no after they have asked to help several times, they are going to stop asking and you might start getting resentful (why aren’t you helping me?! Well because being turned down 10 times in a row makes a person not want to ask anymore). Because deeeeeep down, you really would love some help.
- People want to help and they wouldn’t ask if they didn’t want to (I’d hope). So give them the satisfaction of that. Think about how good it feels to help someone else, let someone else feel that way too. Who cares if the bed isn’t made exactly how you like it - at least it’s done and not on your list anymore.
Sometimes it all comes down to actually talking about / writing down how I am feeling. If I can sit down and sort through what is stressing me out, I can identify the stressors and ACTUALLY DEAL with them before I put on my control freak hat and start bossing people around.
Let me give you a real life example of something that happened a couple of weekends ago. I had to prepare for my CPR certification class and per usual I waited until the Sunday before. We had to meal prep and before I knew it I was freaking out about not having enough time to get everything done. Eric offered to take care of preparing our dinner for the week and I responded with “well you don’t know the recipe and I don’t have it written down so I’ll just find a way to do it.”
Later that night after hours of much unneeded stress, I reflected on how I was feeling about the day and my actions. This is what I learned:
- Deep down, I actually gave zero shits about that meal prep recipe and really wouldn’t have cared if Eric came up with his own recipe for the damn thing.
- In reality, I was nervous about studying for my CPR Certification (which really turned out not to be a big deal or difficult at all - I chose to make it difficult before even looking at the material) AND I procrastinated, had I looked at everything earlier and made a plan I would have avoided this entirely.
- Because I felt nervous and out of control I tried to control everything in my day including how the dinner was made. In retrospect, I could have made that day way less hectic by letting Eric take control over the meal prep for that week while I studied. Problem solved.
It really all comes down to being able to identify the things in your life that are causing your internal control freak to go into a complete frenzy and do everything he/she can to control all of the things. So next time you feel a fight with him/her beginning to brew, take a second and breathe. What is triggering you? Can you delegate something to someone else? Is there something you can start on right now? If you are like me and want to do all of the things yourself, try to understand if there is an underlying feeling that is causing you to behave that way and deal with it head on. Covering it up with controlling or other self destructive methods DOES. NOT. WORK. Believe me.. I’ve tried them all.
Learning to understand and be productive with our feelings can help us learn a lot about ourselves and our behaviors. Calming down our inner control freak before they explode into a tantrum can save so much wasted energy and stress. The best part though, really knowing ourselves will just get us that much closer to our True North’s and you know,