Upset over things you can’t control? Maybe it’s unrealistic expectations.

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As a psychologist, I often see that what often drives many emotions, like frustration, anger, sadness, or disappointment is unrealistic expectations. When we have something we expect, and this is not what happens, we are likely to feel a certain way, which then leads us to react accordingly. We may lash out, complain, speak negatively, or take it out on others. And sometimes, it can ruin our whole day. I see this written about each year when it comes to the Holidays.

Another great example, as I sit here on this April 2nd morning in southeastern Pennsylvania, is the falling snow outside. Spring began on March 20th, baseball season is here, and Easter was just yesterday. So it’s supposed to be sunny, mild, and green with lots of flowers blooming, right? Well, that’s where unrealistic expectations comes in- at least for us in this part of the world.

The reality is that this time of year is highly variable. Some years it can be downright hot in April, while others it can be snowy and cold, or anywhere in between. I can recall Easters staying indoors around a fire, and also wearing shorts and playing outside with the kids. And hot or cold, warm or cool, this can change from day to day. It’s the reality of life in the Northeast, and one I have known for the entirety of my 40 years.

I use weather as an example because each day I hear people talk about the weather, in person and on social media. And predictably, I have seen some people getting particularly salty about the cold days and frozen precipitation we continue seeing. And most of them are my age or older, and have lived here forever!

But for some reason, people either forget what the weather is really like here, or their wishful thinking that winter will end once the calendar says spring is here takes over. People also have quite the tendency to think about how things “should” be. Spring “should” be warm and sunny; baseball season “should: bring baseball weather (in fact, some games were canceled today due to snow); we “should” be wearing short sleeves and whatever springtime clothes we just bought; and so on. And we see the same thing in the fall, as people complain about the heat and humidity that sometimes lasts into October, upset they can’t get out their boots and fleeces just yet. But these phenomena are as predictable as the sun, rising each morning and setting each evening, and I hear the same “shoulds” year after year.

The solution here has nothing to do with the weather or anything else we can’t control, but rather having more realistic expectations. When we have these, we are able to be more flexible, meaning that we can adjust to whatever happens. It doesn’t mean we have to like it, but we are better able to deal with it. If it’s the weather, it means you hold off on packing away your winter clothes, boots, gloves, and hats until you’re certain warmer weather is here to stay. Or in the fall, you keep your shorts out until the weather turns more cool for an extended period of time. The weather is not something we should get angry about, though we are right to feel disappointed if we had outdoor plans, or upset if the weather interferes with our schedules.

If you find yourself getting angry, frustrated, or upset over things you cannot control, try thinking about what expectations you might have and whether or not they are realistic. And does this seem to be a problem year after year? Chances are you could work on this and things will start to go more smoothly for you. If being unrealistic or reacting perhaps a little too strongly to uncontrollable circumstances are things that really seem to get to you, you might consider talking to a professional about it.

Here’s to spring (eventually),

Dr. Matthews

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About Dr. Jesse Matthews

I'm a private practice psychologist in Chester Springs, PA. I provide counseling and coaching services to people ages 12 and up. Specialties include: depression; addiction/substance abuse; relationships; anxiety; ADHD and behavioral issues; and Autism/Asperger's.
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