Managing Anxiety When Things Don’t Go As Planned

When Unplanned Changes Create Stress

I’m not super organized. I don’t have my days planned down to the minute, but I like to know what the day has in store. It brings me comfort and it helps me manage my anxiety. If I know what to expect for the day ahead, I feel more settled. But no matter how organized I am, or how much I plan, things don’t go the way I expect, and that makes me anxious.

I know that life can’t be completely predictable. It would be way to boring if it were. I also know that it’s important to be able to manage change, but anxiety creeps in when you don’t know what happens next. If you’re like me, it’s much harder to manage anxiety in the face of an emergency or even a sudden change of plans.

When your plans do change unexpectedly, you might feel:

 unplanned changes can leave you stressed

unplanned changes can leave you stressed

  • Tightness in your chest, or stomach
  • A general sense of foreboding
  • Resistant to doing something else
  • Hyper-focused on how things could have gone differently
  • Worried about the new or changed plans
  • Stuck and unable to “go with the flow”
  • Wary, but unsure as to why
  • Angry about having to make changes
  • Unsettled and upset

Anxiety Builds When We're Not in Control

Many people manage their anxiety by trying to control their environment. Control over your life and environment gives you the sense that things are right with the world. You tell yourself, “I’ve got this, easy-peasy.”

When that sense of control is shaken, it can feel threatening and scary — and that’s a vulnerable place to be. The feeling that the world could turn upside down without warning creates a lot of anxiety and stress. You feel unsafe, sensing that a potential danger lies ahead. Research has shown that being able to recognize and name your fears can calm you more effectively than avoiding or ignoring them.

Here are 5 steps to help you manage your anxiety with self-care:

1.     Check in with yourself with curiosity. Ask yourself, “What’s happening for me right now? What am I worried will happen?”

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2.     Name your fears and worries. Use the list of feeling words I shared in my last post and dive deep to get at the root of those fears. Say it out loud to yourself: “I’m feeling ______ because I don’t feel in control of my world right now.”

3.     Allow the feelings to be present. We’re so used to avoiding difficult emotions, especially if we’ve been traumatized or neglected. And our culture and society reinforces that message. Just watch television for a little while and you’ll get the idea that we’re supposed to move on from difficult feelings. But research has shown that acknowledging how you’re feeling, allowing the feelings to be there, can ease anxiety and depression.

4.     Self-soothe. It’s possible you were never taught how to offer yourself compassion or how to soothe yourself. Placing your hand on your heart and saying a few soothing phrases can help reground you and calm your anxious mind and body. Say to yourself, “I’m struggling right now. We all struggle from time-to-time and this is really hard for me in this moment.” Again with your hand your heart, you can also offer yourself these calming phrases: “May I be safe. May I be peaceful. May I be healthy, and may I live my life with ease.”

5.     Check in with yourself again. With curiosity, ask yourself again how you’re feeling. Check in with your thoughts, feelings and your body. It’s possible that you’re feeling better. If not, ask yourself if you need to repeat the steps again.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photo courtesy of Nik Shuliahin and Aidan Meyer for Unsplash.