When we hear the word “expectations” we all have certain thoughts and ideas, maybe even hopes, that come to mind. Our idea of the perfect life, what we dreamed of as kids, how we thought our lives would turn out, or even something as small as how we expected the day to go. We have ideas for how we expect our spouse to treat us, the way we expect our children to behave, and our parents and siblings to act. We place expectations on those around us every day – our co-workers, our customers, our infuriating internet provider who can’t seem to do the one thing we pay them for… give us reliable internet. I digress.
That’s really the thing with expectations though, isn’t it? They tend to disappoint us more often than not. We’ve talked about how anxiety is pretty much the default for 2022. We know that we’re all feeling it – the high stress, the pressure, the exhaustion, the burnout. No matter your personality type, it still feels better to have some sort of control over your life and the things around you. Sure, some of us don’t need quite as much control, but for a solid chunk of us, that control means feeling grounded and safe. So, living in a world that constantly feels so out of control can be incredibly triggering. Even easy-going personalities are feeling that pressure – that heaviness that we all feel.
I’d love to say that this is one of those areas where not feeling alone helps, but if we’re being honest, it’s just not. People always say, “well at least you’re not alone.” Those words fall short in today’s world. So, we all feel out of control and helpless together? That platitude doesn’t bring much comfort when you’re spiraling because of the latest unfortunate thing that just happened. What can we do to stay grounded then? What are our options when it feels like we’re the universe’s punching bag and the hits won’t stop coming?
Whether you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming election and the inevitable divisions it may bring, the looming pandemic that just won’t quit, the holidays that are right around the corner, or everyday life details like the premium increase from your health insurance for the fifth year in a row – learning to set healthy expectations around what you can and cannot control is an invaluable lesson in your emotional intelligence arsenal.
Healthy Expectations vs. Unhealthy Expectations
The first step to healthy expectations is communication. This can be applied to both how you communicate with others, like your family or co-workers, and to how the outside world communicates with you, like social media or the news. Let’s break it down.
Setting Healthy Expectations when Communicating with Others
When it comes to how you communicate with others, set boundaries early and clearly. If it’s too late for the early part, that’s ok. It’s never too late for a healthy reset. The key here is not to go around telling everyone what you expect them to do or not do. That could come across as bossy, especially if you’ve never had this type of conversation before. Instead, try and focus on not making assumptions. For example, a lot of us assume that our spouses should know what we expect from them. This is an unhealthy expectation. Even the best of the best husbands and wives are not mind readers. Ask them questions about what they’d prefer from you, too. You may discover that you’ve assumed one thing, when in fact they preferred another. This is a great way to open a dialogue about healthy expectations in a marriage. This works in other relationships as well. Assuming that we know what another person expects is a recipe for disappointment. It never hurts to just ask, especially when we’re asking for clarity purposes to ensure the health of the relationship stays intact, not to mention everyone’s mental health.
Setting Healthy Expectations with How the World Communicates with Us
When it comes to the outside world, you have more control than you may realize. Staying informed is important, but not at the cost of your mental health. Curate who/what you follow on social media. Are there accounts or people you follow that stress you out? You don’t have to unfollow them if you don’t want, but you can mute them. Here’s a great article that teaches you how to mute just about anything/anyone you want on social media. This includes your uncle who posts opposing political views that make you cringe every time you see them. You can love him from afar. It doesn’t mean you need to see his social media posts. Picking up your phone and hitting that social media icon, knowing you’re going to see something that triggers your anxiety, and doing it anyway is an unhealthy expectation. You’re in complete control of this form of communication. Social media could be an entirely separate blog post though, so we’ll leave it at this. Safeguard your emotions on social media and remember that you are in control here. The same goes for the news we consume.
What Are Some Tangible Ways to Feel in Control in an Out-of-Control World?
If you want our honest answer, when our team was talking about writing this blog, it turned into a full therapy session for Team Claibourne. Yes, we believe therapy is the best answer for just about everything and yes, we feel the stress you’re feeling too! We realize though, that if you’re reading this, you may be looking for some things you can try on your own to relieve the stress of living through our umpteenth historical event in the past decade. These are all great suggestions, but don’t try any of them without first validating your feelings. We can’t stress enough that how you feel is real. It’s important. It matters. Feel your feelings. Burnout sets in when we shove our feelings down deep and ignore them.
Give these grounding techniques a try…
- Meditation & Music
- Open an handy app to help you recenter, like Calm App or Headspace App
- YouTube your favorite song (we like Hakuna Matata) or some good vibrational Hertz music
- Load up the F*ck that Meditation – We love this two and a half minute meditation. Fair warning though, grab some headphones if you’re listening in the office. This is NSFW but quite effective! 😉
- Deep breathing with any 2-word affirmation – inhale “I’m” and exhale “safe”.
- Use sensory engagement
- Find something like a fidget spinner
- Apply some essential oils
- Listen to loud music
- Put your feet in grass
- Snuggle with your pet
- Try journaling – unedited/unfiltered writing just to clear it out of your head space
- Call a friend who can empathize without trying to fix your problems
- Cry it out – actually letting yourself cry or make a loud noise is a way to help get those feelings out of your body
- Try reading a good book or sinking into a feel-good movie with a cup of herbal tea and your favorite sweater
- Sweat it out (one of the best states of mind changes out there!)
- Power walk
- Sweat room or sauna
- Jump in a hot shower
Another option we love is the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique. We find that grounding exercises help to refocus on the present moment and create space to process big emotions. Engaging all 5 of your senses allows you to notice your surroundings to bring you back to the present.
Try to notice the little things that you may not pay attention to in everyday life, such as listening to the sound of traffic that is usually just white noise or noticing the grain pattern of your wooden desk.
The Psychology Behind Feeling Out of Control
The idea in each of these techniques is to bring your adult self back into the driver’s seat. From a psychological perspective, when we feel out of control the wounded part of ourselves, maybe the child version, is the one reacting. Fear takes over and we begin to panic. Each of us has different reactions to that fear and panic. Some become angry, some withdraw, some become obsessive… whatever the case we go into survival mode until we feel like we’re back in control. This could be a matter of seconds or days.
Mel Robbins actually just published a new podcast about why we get so triggered and react the way we do, and offers more suggestions to take control of our emotions. She speaks with Dr. Becky Kennedy, a child psychologist and author, who helps us better understand how “your triggers are stories from your past.”
All of the grounding techniques we’ve mentioned here allow us to recenter and quiet our minds so that the adult version of ourselves can take back control, with all of the wisdom and experience we now have compared to the naive child we once were. Once we calm ourselves and allow our logical adult minds to come out and take back the power, we can feel better until the next thing comes along. This is why learning to set those healthy expectations is so important…. because the next thing will, unfortunately, always come along.
And We’re Here When You Need Us!
When you’ve tried all of the DIY grounding techniques and you still need a friend, we’re here. We offer individual therapy in Scottsdale for anyone who is struggling with anxiety, stress, trauma, or any of life’s other unrealized expectations. Please reach out to schedule an appointment today.