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Frustrated with Things You Can’t Control? Here’s How to Deal

Frustrated with Things You Can't Control? Here's How to Deal

Today, I’m sitting at the Virgin terminal at SFO, which is awesome. Healthy food, wide open bright space, comfy chairs, lots of outlets…

It would be even more awesome if I wasn’t supposed to be halfway to NYC by now.

My flight is delayed 3 hours. I’m sitting here, knowing I won’t be getting to my hotel until 3 AM and I’m teaching an event tomorrow.

My blood could be boiling right now. I could be throwing a fit at the customer service desk. I could be calling Virgin America, demanding a ticket credit or a free hotel stay!

There are so many instances every day that are just completely out of control like this, but what do we do? We fret. We worry. We get frustrated and angry and we let that fury conquer our day. I feel myself starting to be pulled in that direction right now.

But I refuse. In fact, I used to get all up and arms, huffing and puffing, complaining to anyone and no one at all. Now I watch other people do that while I sit back and wait. Now I see it from the outside and recognize it for what it is- useless.

A lot of the energy we spend on worrying and frustration is useless. We think that by dwelling on the situation we’ll come up with a solution, and sometimes we’re right… if it’s a situation we have any control over.

Knowing the difference between things you have control over and those you don’t is the key to saving yourself tons of time, sweat and tears. Some things just won’t be fixed by frustration.

Today, I want to give you the tools to start feeling better no matter your level of control. First off, let’s learn how to tell the difference between the things we can’t control and those we can.

Can I control this?

Whether you’re religious or not, you’ve probably heard The Serenity Prayer or a version of it. It goes like this:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Whatever you believe in, this prayer holds something for all of us. To know the difference between what you can and cannot control dictates where you perceive your power to be held. This might not make sense, but hear me out.

When you struggle and fight something that you cannot control, you prolong the nasty feelings that come along with it. You might get angry that you don’t have control, you might think you’re weak because you can’t change it. You might even lash out and hurt someone else emotionally because of something you couldn’t change in the first place.

When you realize that it is out of your control, however, you have the opportunity to take your power back. Strength is not determined by your circumstances, but by what you do with them.

To separate the things we can control from those we cannot, all you have to do is ask yourself:

“What can I control in this situation?”

Using my example of my super-delayed flight above, my answer would have to be “my reaction to it.” I couldn’t make the plane leave faster. Everyone was delayed, so I was out of luck in switching flights. I came to the conclusion that it was out of my control.

Let’s say for the purpose of comparison that I was getting frustrated about my weight. Asking myself the same question, I would answer: “the way I eat, the amount I move, my attitude about my weight.” This situation is one I can control. My frustration stems from my choice not to do anything about it.

If your only answer contains reactions to the situation instead of ways to remedy the situation itself, you are dealing with an event you cannot control. But what if the line isn’t so clear?

Depression: the fuzzy line

Now, let’s take a situation that many of us are a little fuzzy about: depression.

A lot of us deal with this frustration all the time with depression or anxiety. Much of it may be out of our control–the fact that it happens to us, that it comes in uninvited. We can avoid the triggers that we know lead us to depression, but in many of us, something like not getting enough sleep can be enough to set it off. And that’s not our fault.

Our actions, however, we can control. We can choose to stand up and protect ourselves with self-care, or we can let it take us away.

I advocate fighting for your health and taking positive action to stay standing, but I want to make sure I’m clear about this next part: fighting your depression in terms of pushing it down, pretending it’s not there or being angry at yourself for going through it at all is a waste of time. That is not the “fight” that I’m promoting. The “fight” I teach is the refusal to be dragged away with it, to maintain hope in the fury of chaos.

You can get angry at it. You can be disappointed that it’s happening again. But the more you try to stuff it down, the stronger it gets.

You can learn to live in spite of these storms. With practice they may lose their power, diminishing from hurricanes to gentle rains. And if they don’t, you’ll get stronger at holding your ground and living your life no matter how much they blow.

Let the storm pass, and stay standing with some of these tips.

Tips to stay standing when you lack control

Accept that it’s happening

You’ve already diagnosed that you have no control over this situation. So why struggle against it when you can be spending that energy on making yourself feel better as you go through it?

The first step to dealing with situations you can’t control is accepting them. Acknowledge that they’re here, and that you may struggle through this, but also that it will teach you something. Be mindful, be present and be curious about this situation. It doesn’t mean you have to give up your power to it; you just have to acknowledge that it’s there.

Take any kind of action

By doing, you alleviate a lot of the frustration, anxiety and helplessness that comes with an event you can’t control. By carefully selecting your reactions to this situation, you can take quite a bit of the suck out of it.

If I’m being hit with a wave of anxiety out of nowhere, I’ll go to one of my 3 proven ways to start feeling better and ride it out:

I’ll talk to my husband, one of my besties or a therapist. Saying my worries out loud helps me gain perspective on the situation and is highly likely to alleviate the anxiety right away.

I’ll go for a slow run or do a yoga class. Getting mindful and doing repetitive movements that my body is familiar with allows me to zen out into my moving meditation.

I’ll focus on helping someone else. A proven tactic for relieving depression, shifting your thoughts to someone else’s wellbeing helps me to worry less about my own stuff and get some distance on my stressors. I often come back from this with fresh eyes, able to see that what was bothering me wasn’t really a big deal at all.

Change your thoughts

Why is this happening? Is there a silver lining?

I found out the reason for my flight being delayed- mechanics were replacing the brake system. My frustration got a slap in the face.

Thank God they found it and we didn’t leave with a faulty system! It’s a good thing they weren’t rushing through it!

Look for the why behind the event, and it might make you feel better. If you can’t find it, have faith that it’s there.

Countdown to serenity

Ok, so those things above are great for when you’re not fuming and ready to explode from frustration. Sometimes it goes too far too fast before we realize what’s happening. When that happens, try this exercise.

For at least 10 rounds:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Take 5 full seconds to breathe in through your nose.
  3. Hold it for a beat.
  4. Take 5 seconds to let the breath back out through your nose.

Here’s why it works:

  • Closing your eyes will bring your focus into the task at hand.
  • Nose breathing helps to slow any hyperventilation that may come with heightened emotions.
  • Concentrating on the counting can help distract you from the situation at hand long enough to calm your nervous system.

When we’re descending into the chaos of frustration, sometimes all we need is space and stillness. This exercise that gives you just that.

And if you can control it…

The only way you’re going to stop feeling this anxiety and frustration is if you take action. If you’re not willing to take the action, you must accept the situation and look for other ways to find serenity within it to save yourself from constant frustration.

Hold onto your frustration without a way out, and you’re provoking stress in your life, which can wreak havoc on your body and mind.

If you can control it and it’s making you unhappy, you have to take responsibility for yourself. If your surroundings, friends or habits promote a negative mindset or body, you’re the only one who can change them.

You choose where you spend time, who you spend it with and what you spend it doing. If you’re unhappy and it’s something you can control, it’s you who’s keeping it that way.

I say this to help you realize that it’s just a switch. It’s just a choice YOU make. It’s just the acknowledgment of the strength lying dormant within you.

You have everything it takes to stand up and live, to have joy in spite of struggle. When you don’t do anything about your current state, you give that up.

Fight to stand back up. Fight to stay you in the storm. And thank the struggle for what it’s teaching you: that you’re strong enough to wait it out.

Stay strong,


Strong Inside Tour Update!

NYC was soooo much fun! What a wonderful group of beautiful hearts and souls! With the help of Circuit of Change (which is a studio I would totally force to hire me as a teacher if I lived in NYC- if you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss Brian’s class!), LuliTonix and Mio Skincare, we had one of the best intimate and heartfelt classes I’ve ever taught. Thank you, NYC!

I really hope to see you in our final two bootcamps of the Tour! Here’s where we’ll be and when…


Saturday, October 25th @ 10:00 AM

Looking for a challenge that will leave you and your metabolism fired up for days? Look no further than Woodward CrossFit for a CrossFit-ized bodyweight HIIT workout that will have you crying mostly happy tears. The workout is completely modifiable, so please don’t let the CrossFit aspect of it scare you. All levels are welcome! Click here for more info and to get your tix!


Saturday, November 8th @ 8:30 AM

Our brand new addition to The Strong Inside Out Tour, Phoenix is going to be a dance party workout unlike any other. Join us at Scott’s Training Systems (the owner was on the cover of the issue of NASM Training Edge Magazine right after mine!) for what may very well be our final event for this year! Click here for more info and to get your tix!

Please, please, please don’t miss the stop closest to you! I would absolutely love to meet you in person!

pic credit: Stress by Firesam!

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18 responses to “Frustrated with Things You Can’t Control? Here’s How to Deal”

  1. Becky says:

    I so needed this today! Thank you.

  2. Akhil says:

    This article was really great…I hope the above mentioned points will help me in fighting this never ending struggle of mine..
    Thank You :)

  3. Jennifer says:

    Thanks to this post, I feel a lot better.

  4. Alison says:

    Love and NEEDED this article. Im trying to email it to myself but the email button isnt working properly. But I am taking this article to heart and starting my day off RIGHT!

    • Amy says:

      Thank you so much for the heads up on the email button, Alison! I’ll fix it right now. I’m very happy to hear that this post served you.

  5. Vance says:

    Incredible perfectly put

  6. Ryan says:

    This isn’t helping. I’ve lost pleasure in EVERYTHING!! I constantly feel sick.Something I don’t want to happen is happening. I can’t focus and lost my job. I have no friends or anybody to talk to about it. I don’t know what to do…

    • Amy says:

      I’m sorry you’re struggling so much right now, Ryan. Do you have someone or a group for support? I don’t know if I’d still be here if it wasn’t for my therapists along the way.

  7. Abe says:

    I’ve been trying to control my panic attacks for a while now some i can control and calm down after a while but it’s usually those that makes me feel upset and depressed the ones with anger are harder to control and bad things happen and i really need some personal advice because I’m not an angry person but i have a bad habit of bottling up things till I explode and I really need to improve on that to have a better chance on living a happy life, i dont want anger to consume me anymore….

    • Amy says:

      Hi Abe. I’m sorry you’re struggling with panic attacks. While I’m not a mental health professional, if I were in your situation, I’d start working on speaking up for myself as things happen that I’m uncomfortable with. In fact, it’s something I’ve been working on actively for the last couple of years. Try reading Setting Boundaries 101 – it goes over some tips that might help. Wishing you much peace and healing!

  8. […] old!) and he’s 100% alive, but the story is so relatable — because things happen sometimes that are out of our control — and Hathaway is always so generous in sharing the ups and downs of her life as a new […]

  9. Norm says:

    I need drastic help because I cannot find any semblance of happiness anymore and this article wasn’t particularly helpful. My worst fears are all coming to life, I was fired from job despite being an employee of the year in 2012, perfect attendance, and a company record of over 7 million packages (nearly 14 years) without an error. I was fired because in 2 months I would have made 15 years and was due a pay raise, much better to get rid of a record producer and bring in new help at $10 an hour. I also have PTSD from harassment at work (they tried to get me to quit first by harassing me on a daily basis). I was going to therapy but with no job and now no insurance I cannot afford it. That is not by biggest problem though, it’s the world and the disgusting way people are today. So compassionless, so cruel and so corrupt. Every boss I get is worse than the last and society is cruel beyond words, all my worst fears are coming to life. HOW DO I STOP CARING ABOUT ALL THE CRUEL AND AWFUL THINGS/PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD?????????? PLEASE HELP!!!

    • Amy says:

      Hi, Norm. I’m very sorry to hear you’re struggling so much right now. If you feel at all in danger of hurting yourself or others, please call the 911 (or your local emergency line if you’re out of The US) or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

      It sounds like you’re going through a lot. I wish I could help more than I’m qualified to be, but I think a counselor or mental health professional would be of the greatest service to you right now. Please reach out to one (you can find one near you here: I wouldn’t be where I am now without the help of many along the way. Wishing you much peace, strength and happiness.

  10. Well im deeply grateful.. To the writer.. Because you have saved lives through your encouraging article…. A huge thanks to you .. Keep it posted..

  11. Stefan says:

    There is Total uncertainty troubling me. The If, How or why to do about things pretty much always escape me.
    I even realize that being so sure about this is a complete paradoxical contradiction. I’m lost.
    Just observing is hard and often hurts.

    • Amy says:

      I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling lost, Stefan. I hear you, and I want you to immediately call your emergency hotline if you feel in danger of hurting yourself or others (if you’re in the US, it’s 911). You can always call our Suicide Prevention Lifeline here in the States (1 (800) 273-8255) as well.

      Beyond that, the best advice I can give is to start questioning the why behind your hesitations. Usually, we hesitate to make decisions out of fear (of being wrong, looking stupid, etc.). Awareness will stem from there and deepen into something more clear. Something that a therapist could start really helping you with (I’m a HUGE fan of therapy – I think everyone should be in it!). I hope that helps, Stefan. Hang in there.

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