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Mastering Self-Control in an Uncontrollable World

As success-driven professionals, it is not uncommon to think that we have to wear stress as a badge of honor. As a physician and workplace wellness expert, my concern was the high pre-pandemic levels of work-related stress in the United States. Organizational psychology and human resource data in 2019 source that high stress levels accounted for an estimated loss of over $300 billion to the US economy due to sick days, reduced productivity, lack of engagement, and employee turnover.  

In 2020, the effects of the pandemic, global economic crisis, and political season in the US are creating a stream of non-stop stress-inducing news, noise, and negativity. A common question I received in virtual workshops and on social media, is “why can’t I get my brain to turn off, even when I turn off my devices?” We have not yet begun to understand the scope that stress will play on individuals, teams, and the entire organization. We are at a critical time to start or grow employee wellness programs tailored to companies and industries’ specific needs. 

Are you stuck in a stress cycle?

In our pre-pandemic world, our workshops used to focus on the stress-success cycle. We would get a plan together for nutrition, exercise, or a work-related goal. We would stress, obsess, and worry while setting up a system to achieve our stated goal. Mission accomplished, something feels like it’s missing, and then start the cycle all over again. We could account for little (or big) goals achieved along the way. The internal dialogue was, “I can never seem to have enough, or I am never satisfied.”

After five months of teaching virtual workshops to our corporate clients, we have observed another phenomenon during our live stress tests- we all seem stuck in the stress part of the cycle without feeling like we are achieving meaningful goals. Does it feel like you have lost control of the narrative of your life? Now the internal dialogue has shifted, “current world events are all too much to comprehend.”

Have I lost control, or lost my mind?

Our minds’ human nature is to hear a story with a straightforward three-part narrative: the beginning, a middle, and an ending. In fact, for the last decade, mastering the art of story-telling was crucial to your brand, a keynote speech, or a clever cocktail-party anecdote. 

Society, and therefore our minds, haven’t been able to process the current global narrative. Days can appear to run together, and the external noise/news only seems to grow. We haven’t a clue how, when, or where we will reach the end of the pandemic, economic crisis, or the political divide. 

Bottom line: you feel like you have lost control. A sense of lack of control creates panic; thus, we feel stuck in a stress cycle.  

Solution: Take steps, no matter how small, to gain control over the narrative in your mind and thus your life.

Rise Above the Panic

Over the last three years, after working with thousands of employees on stress-management, wellness, and mindfulness, we developed “The brainSHIFT Protocol: Mind Science of Workplace Wellness.” The entire protocol fosters vitality, restoration, and a sense of belonging for an organization’s people. As we started to roll out the program virtually to our clients with teams predominately working from home, we observed two new critical problems during our live stress tests:

1.) New and acute mental health symptoms in team members had not been addressed or even recognized by leaders. 

Individuals couldn’t focus on performance and productivity because they complained of difficulty sleeping, combatting anxiety, or navigating through brain fog.  

2.) Overwhelmed because of a feeling of loss of control. Statements we hear are, “how can I focus on work when there is an election coming up?” “How do I know what to believe about COVID19?” “How do I stay motivated?”

I understand as leaders focusing on productivity, team building, and feeling connected while working from home are essential. However, my statement on every intake call focuses on a functioning brain and a calm mind.

The cognitive and emotional symptoms we all can feel are rooted in the stress-cycle I discussed above. The news & noise from the outside world seems without closure, leading to a sense of panic.

How to Regain the Feeling of Control

We cannot afford any longer to ignore our people’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being. What are the steps to regaining control, and is that even reasonable? 

  1. Redefine what it means to be in control. As success-driven professionals, we jump as thinkers/doers to wanting to control external circumstances.  
  2. Self-control is your focus. Self-control is taking one step at a time to thoughts and actions we control. We must differentiate what we can choose versus what we cannot control. An example, I choose or choose not to make my bed. You decide to send that tweet. Neither one of us can determine the outcome of today’s news cycle, an argument on social media, or the global crisis in distributing food and medicine.
  3. Observe don’t absorb. Mindful leadership teaches us to pause, breathe, and observe. If we react to every statement directed toward us, we get drained emotionally. Actual control is based on the power of restraint, rather than allowing someone else’s words to hijack your mind. When we observe, we then control what needs a response versus what noise we can ignore.
  4. Take micro-actions of self-control over your body, your schedule, and your environment. When we allow external circumstances to hijack our minds emotionally, we have lost awareness of the hundreds of micro-decisions our subconscious mind controls daily. Make a list of 10 decisions or actions you managed in your life today. For example, “I chose to skip the creamer in my coffee.”

Want to learn more?

Reach out to us and ask us about our virtual workshops for organizations and companies. Invest in your people, prioritize employee mental health and well-being.

Click here to contact Dr. Romie now.


  1. Natural Ways to Shut Down Racing Thoughts Before Bedtime Dr. Romie Blog:
  2. Stop the Stress-Success Cycle:
  3. Cost of Chronic Stress:

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