We all like to be in control of our lives. We feel good when we can make choices rather than being pushed into situations. Even if the result is something we would have chosen anyway, we feel better if we had alternate options. But for some people, the need to be in control can induce or exacerbate anxiety.
Maybe you want to go to the beach for the day but are concerned about where you’ll park, where you’ll eat, if the kids will get too tired or grumpy. Either you go and feel stressed and anxious about what might happen, which means you don’t enjoy the experience. Or you decide not to go to avoid the things you can’t control and, as a result, you miss out on what could have been a great day.
Perhaps in your professional life, you decide not to go for a promotion because you are concerned about the aspects of the new job that you don’t know. Maybe you stay in a role you dislike because ‘better the devil you know’.
Anxiety associated with control can affect children too. It’s possible your teenager resists going to school or doesn’t do as well in classes because they do not want to participate unless they are 100% sure their answer is correct.
Although avoiding situations that are triggering and anxiety-producing may make you feel better in the short term, in the longer term it can cause greater angst. Your brain will get used to the idea that if you avoid something, you won’t feel anxiety, which then makes the thing even harder to face the next time. You end up in a cycle of anxiety and avoidance, which can prevent you from attaining the goals you’d like to or having experiences you’d enjoy. The reality is we cannot control everything, so we need to develop the inner resources to tolerate and better navigate uncertainties.
By facing situations that feel challenging, we often find that they aren’t as bad as we thought they would be. Then we feel less anxiety the next time, and it becomes easier and easier. If the situation does turn out as we thought it might and leaves us feeling anxious, that gives us a good opportunity to look at why it turned out that way and explore ways to manage better in the future. If the situation turns out to be as bad as we thought it would be and we walk away feeling more anxious, it’s a good opportunity to look at why it turned out the way it did and explore ways to manage better in the future. Putting the work and effort into accepting that it’s ok not to totally be in control and lessen the anxiety that goes along with it can open up opportunities and experiences to lead a fuller, happier life.
Are you struggling with anxiety caused by the need to control everything around you? I can help you look at where your need for control comes from, what it means to you, how it’s impacting your life, and what small steps can be taken to ultimately make a bigger change and free you up to enjoy and experience more in life.
About Ilisa Howard
Ilissa Howard is trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as well as Complicated Grief Therapy. She draws from these interventions as well as other evidenced based therapies to help those in mourning navigate their complex feelings and reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and other challenges as a result of a loss. Ilissa believes that you will always hold the loss in your heart, but that you can also move forward and enjoy life again.