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Anxiety and Feeling out of control: How to manage

A common place from where our anxieties and mental health problems stem from is a our misunderstanding of what we can and cannot control.

Anxiety is specifically related to the notion of control in complex ways. In it self, many people who feel anxiety often feel as if they are "spiralling out of control". Many a times panic and anxiety attacks often comprise of this feeling. It is also widely understood that those who develop anxiety disorders have at some point experienced a lack of perceived control over negative events (e.g. Gallagher et. al. 2014).

There is one other way in which control And anxiety are related. It is often acknowledged that individuals who have a need to excessively control themselves and their environment are often doing so because of an underlying fear or anxiety. This fear is rooted in the person's past experiences and can be have different root causes. Nonetheless, the outcome of it is an anxiety which is only assuaged when they try and control everything in their environment.

This begins to severely affect their mental health and relationships. Unfortunately, when they are unable to control (or in some cases micromanage) everything, their worries and fears that they are not in control are reinforced and thus, a vicious cycle begins.

While the above might be true for only a subsection of people who might be struggling with a debilitating form of anxiety, I am certain that many of the readers will relate to that negative emotion which arises when they think about the uncertain things in their life.

So here is a method that you can use next time such a situation arises:

  • Try to think about what exactly is the situation that is causing you distress.

  • Now try to separate the situation into what you are doing in it and what the environment (place, people, time, event etc) is doing to you.

  • Try to figure out whose action is causing you distress.

  • There are two possibilities, one that it is your action, two that it is the environment which is the source of your emotional state.

  • If it is your action indeed, trust that you are in complete control. Breathe. This is not to put pressure on you but to help you realise that you can still manage. Try to set an action plan in place and begin. Even if you have messed up big time, you can still choose to do the next right thing. And it will be completely fine.

  • If it is your environment remember that it is nearly impossible to control that. You can only control your actions in response to this situation. If the situation is a future issue, trust that you will be able to handle it. And focus on the present (you can try and notice any 5 colors in your environment to kickstart this process). If the situation is right now, think of what your response can be. Is it more prudent to let it go? Is it a person you wish to confront? Or is it time to change this environment? There are many options.

  • Finally, remember that this issue that is causing distress is not permanent. Even if the situation is irreversible, you will change, you will grow. Try as much as you can to not treat it like your final destination.

A number of times we are unable to manage our emotions what we feel out of control. Every human has a need and capacity to control some aspects of their life. However sometimes, we are unable to discern how much is in our control. The above exercise is one way to put things in perspective but there are many more frameworks we can use. The next few posts will delve deeper into some other aspects of control. So stay tuned and don't forget to share and leave a comment.


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