Taking Control over Stress

“Control your own destiny or someone else will.” -Jack Welch

When we perceive a situation as stressful, our brains and bodies react. These natural responses, triggered from the deep, primitive part of the brain, prepare us for action. While this was useful for survival when used in the short run, it can cause a lot of damage in the long run. For example, the stress response affects insulin and glucose metabolism: good for short term energy, but bad for the long-term fat build-up and heart disease.

Positive coping strategies are crucial to help us avoid stress building up. In our stressful lives, we need resilience to recover from and adapt to potentially stressful challenges.

One component of resilience is a sense of control over one’s life. It is important to believe that you can make things happen, to feel you have choices, to believe that you can identify what you can influence, and do something about the things that you can change.


Here are a few tips to improve feelings of control:

  1. Break it down

One of the toughest parts of a big project is getting started. It can seem daunting or hard to know where to start, and this challenge can lead to procrastination.

For difficult jobs, break them into manageable pieces and you will be better able to see the progress you are making.

Start by defining the goal of the project: get a clear objective of what you want to do. Once you have a description of what needs to be done, break it down into chunks. Reward yourself in some way when you complete a chunk.

When taking the first step, it may be helpful to remind yourself that what you start with is just a draft, and can be changed later.


  1. Know your limits

It is important to challenge yourself, but be sure to choose goals and tasks that are also achievable for you.

Determine if you have enough resources to control the outcome of the situation. If you do not, figure out where the gaps in your skills and resources lie, and make efforts to close these gaps; For example, get training to improve your skills, or get other people involved.

Remember though, don’t be too quick to limit yourself. If you believe that your ability is fixed, or you are afraid to try something in case you fail, this is indicative of a “fixed mindset”, as Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck calls it. This can hinder your progress and growth.


  1. Watch your language

If you find yourself saying phrases like “I have no choice” or “there’s nothing I can do”, they may reflect feelings of lacking control. Often, these statements are not true; You do have other options, even if the options are not desirable. Believing that you have no choice can lead to feelings of despondency or disengagement from a situation.

Try replacing these with phrases like “I don’t like my options, but I will…”. Realise that there are alternatives to consider, and take ownership of the choice you make.


  1. Accept what you can’t control

If you go for a swim in the sea and get caught in a rip current, the advice is to not try to swim against it. You will tire yourself out and make no progress. Instead, you are advised to stay calm, and swim parallel to the shore, to get out of the current.

Some things are out of our control, like the power of the sea. That does not mean we can do nothing to help ourselves, but we must find a way around it. This is also true in our work or personal lives; For example, you can’t control other people, and if you make your goals about trying to change others, you are likely to exhaust yourself or become frustrated.

Figure out what you cannot change, accept it, think of alternative ways to get around the obstacle, and find a solution.


These tips can help improve your belief that you can influence outcomes in your life, giving you back a sense of power. You can always control your attitude, and the level of effort you put into something. Reminding yourself of this is crucial for your resilience and ability to adapt to challenges.


The Hardiness Resilience Gauge is an assessment that measures Hardiness, and one of the components is ‘Control’.  If you’re interested in taking this assessment or adding it to your coaching or training toolkit, get in touch!


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Hardiness Resilience Gauge