When the World is on Fire: How to Cope with Things We Can’t Control

Our world is changing fast. Our climate, the job market, politics, racism, #metoo, COVID and its variants, even what life looks like when--or if--we graduate college are all critical issues. And on top of the challenges we share in this uncertain world, our personal struggles can leave us feeling overwhelmed and out of control. So what can we do when it feels like our world is on fire? 

 Share the Load 

 We hear all the time that it’s good for us to stay connected, but it can be hard to reach out when we’re struggling. Making that call to a family member or friend to get together, talk, or even just to say hi until we feel supported can make a huge difference in how we experience the things we’re going through. In a study of a California community that experienced multiple wildfires, the group that reached out to social supports reported better mental health outcomes after five months than those who stayed more isolated (Felix & Afifi, 2015). 

 Go Easy on Yourself 

 Have you felt guilty that you aren’t doing “enough” to make things better? We can all feel that way, whether we’re having trouble getting out of bed or are burned out from volunteering every free moment. By focusing attention on our values and what’s important to us, we can strengthen our sense of who we are in relation to a problem, calm our bodies and minds, and improve our resilience (Sherman, 2013).  For a start, try making a list of 5 things that matter to you to look back on when you feel overwhelmed. Maybe it’s building relationships, taking care of our world, making art, or enjoying warm blankets after a tough day. There are no wrong answers. 

 Find Your Peace 

 Learning how to live in a world that’s often chaotic is increasingly important. How do we find a sense of calm when the world is anything but? For many people, being mindful can create a sense of refuge inside of us instead of looking for it somewhere else. While different methods work for different people, one key piece of every method is noticing what we’re feeling without judgement. This has serious benefits: “Mindfulness, by increasing non-judgmental and non-reactive responses to positive and negative emotions, situations, and objects, allows for more balanced and calm reactions, which rapidly reduces the intensity of emotional states” (Juneau et al., 2020). 

 Making change where we can is important. But to do that, and to have the energy we need in this unpredictable world, we have to shore up our internal resources first. If you need help, the student therapists at the Olson Clinic 319-368-6493 can help you find your strengths.  



Felix, E. D., & Afifi, W. (2015). The role of social support on mental health after multiple wildfire disasters. Journal of Community Psychology, 43(2), 156–170. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcop.21671 

 Juneau, C., Shankland, R., & Dambrun, M. (2020). Trait and state equanimity: The effect of mindfulness-based meditation practice. Mindfulness, 11(7), 1802–1812. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01397-4 

 Sherman, D. K. (2013). Self-affirmation: Understanding the effects. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(11), 834–845. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12072 

Picture by Samer Daboul from Pixels







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