How to Reduce Your Stress and Anxiety by Focusing on the Things You CAN Influence

In this post, I hope you’ll find ways in which you can deal with your own concerns with as much ease as possible – while also increasing your sense of agency, empowering yourself to change the things you CAN change

As Ireland opens up more, everyone has an opinion on masks and vaccinations

Personally, while I’m double vaccinated and still wear a mask indoors or where unable to social distance, I wouldn’t want anyone to be forced to do anything. That being said, a part of me wishes they’d  do more to help end the pandemic. The old umbrella analogy (where some people have been doing everything in their power to protect themselves and others while others simply say they’re fine and don’t even feel any rain) rings true and sometimes, my metaphorical shoulder aches from carrying excess burden.

Am also conscious that here in Ireland, there’s been high uptake and every adult who wants the vaccine has been offered it. Personally (again, this is simply my own opinion), I think it would be better to share surplus stock with the parts of the world where people are desperate for access to the vaccine. And where it’s harder to follow other public health measures like washing hands, keeping our distance and so on.

If I want to stress myself out, I can let my inner Judgy McJudgeface out and assume that I’m right and others are wrong. That other people SHOULD be doing what I think is right. But I only know what feels right for ME in any given situation. Other people have a myriad of reasons for their own beliefs and choices.

So I give my inner Judgy McJudgeface as much of an imaginary hug as possible (part of me. Hugs are OK) and immediately feel more relaxed and at ease by reminding myself to focus on what I can do and let go of the rest.

Being back in London, Hertfordshire and Essex a few weeks back was a culture shock. So many people on Tubes, trains and buses, it was impossible to social distance and all I could do was wear my own mask and trust that the vaccination works. Yes, we know that as it mutates, the current vaccines may become less effective but… I can only do what I can do to minimse the risk of transmission.

To give a less controversial example (if you’ve read this far), I failed my driving theory test yesterday

It could have gone either way but having failed more practice tests than I’d passed, this failure was the best result for myself and road users. I’d been advised to book before I felt ready (before I’d even seen any sample questions) due to Covid queues.

But, never having done it before, I didn’t know what a normal wait was. How long people were usually advised to study for it. Between my busy practice, group work, journalism deadlines, working on a couple of book projects and the joy of seeing more of friends, family and others as things open up, I’d done my best to study but it clearly hadn’t been enough.

Back in my 20s, when I’d had a handful of driving lessons, I’d glanced at the BSM Handbook a couple of times. Back then and there, you did your driving test and then your theory test.

Last month, I read a few of the sample questions, reassured myself that it wasn’t rocket science and that with time and focus (grr) I could learn what I needed to learn and would be far better prepared for practical driving lessons when I passed the theory and got my provisional license.

Then I got distracted – my first trip back to the UK in nearly 2 years, work and other things – and 10 days before the test, reaslised the reading of the questions on the app wasn’t really helping me learn it. So I started doing the random practice tests.

The pop up explanations after each answer meant that I was learning each time I failed. And with so many questions about tractors, trailors and statistics around alcohol related road deaths etc, I didn’t give myself too hard a time about not knowing what I didn’t know.

I didn’t even understand some of the questions, let alone know how to answer them. But the practice helped and I improved a lot so where I was still passing fewer than I was failing, I was failing better (missing one or two).

I’d expected to fail yesterday. Not because I don’t believe in myself (Younger Me doesn’t even recognise the me writing that sentence) but because I know that while I’d done dozens and dozens of practice tests, there were still plenty of questions I’d not yet seen let alone learned the correct answer for.

Also, Indian Irish London born Ireland living multifocused person here. Multichoice formats where there’s only one option???? Am guessing that the option to stop by the side of the road for a coffee was the answer they were looking for but I had to quit caffeine before quitting alcohol in 2001 so went with the rolling down windows to let the fresh air in.  

My plan, if I’d passed, had been to continue to study. To do a practice test a day until I felt I knew it as well as I could. And yet, I know myself well enough to know that after a few days, Imaginary Theory Test Passing Me would have lost the will.

Having to do it again means I’ll be a better, safer driver

And they were LOVELY. Even after I told them about my traffic light inspired outfit: Black dress with red shoes, bag and headband, green jumper and orange (for the amber) top poking out from under it.

At first, I was told I’d probably been using the wrong app to study on. We both laughed with relief. I told him about friends failing the questions too and there being so many about tractors and trailers.

Oh how we (or at least me) laughed.

And then, well, it turned out that I’d been using the correct app after all. And that even though loads of the questions revolve around stats around road collisions, penalty points and other info that my brain wants to reject on account of it being so fleeting (all these things will change when the next stats etc come out).

Still, in order to learn to drive, I need to learn this current information. I was advised to wait until I’m averaging 35/40 on the tests and THEN to book to retake it (I only got 31/40 yesterday).

I was obviously disappointed but very practical, too. I’ll learn it, retake it, pass it and feel more confident about my right to learn to drive and when I pass THAT to be on the roads in charge of a motorised vehicle!

What does this have to do with you?

Maybe nothing!

But maybe, reading these examples of things I’m focusing on areas I can influence (eg wearing my own mask and not concerning myself with what others do, studying for the test and retaking it), you’ve thought of some examples in your own life?

Something you’re concerned about but don’t have as much influence as you’d like? I wrote about Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence in the book

In a nutshell, the aim is to reduce what’s in your Circle of Concern (ie the things that you’re stressed and anxious about) and increase what’s in your Circle of Influence (the things you can impact).

Make a list of currents thoughts that bring you stress and anxiety when you think them

With my examples, just as I can’t control whether others mask up or, if safe for them to do so after speaking with their GP, get vaccinated, I can’t control the number of questions or changing information about things that will likely change next year.

So I focus on what I CAN control. I’ll pay particular attention to the areas I’m weakest on in my ongoign study and do my best when I retake the test. And when I’m allowed out on the road, I’ll do what I can to follow the instructor’s instructions, relieved about the whole dual controlled vehicle, and spend less time and energy imagining all the horrors that MIGHT occur due to other road users’ behaviours and instead become the best driver I can be and learn to ‘read the road’ (look at me with the lingo!) without becoming overly anxious about it.

What, within each of your stressful and anxiety inducing thoughts, is out of your control completely? How can you let that go? (The vagal breathing is always a help for me)

What about the things you can expand your influence around?

What are you going to do to reduce your own stress and anxiety as you handle your concerns head on?

How might you support yourself as you do this? What might others do to help? (Having a loved one with me in Galway yesterday so we could enjoy the day out whatever happened with the test really helped me).

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With love,

Eve Menezes Cunningham self care coach therapist supervisor

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