Anxiety and control

Man with hands over face depicting how to control anxiety when things out of control

Do you notice that your anxiety spikes when things are out of your control? This is actually not uncommon. Our minds have evolved to feel most comfortable with certainty, structure and predictability because it creates an illusion of safety. When our minds perceive a lack of control it perceives this to mean that we are in danger and a stress response is triggered in the body. This stress response which involves adrenalin and cortisol leads to familiar symptoms of anxiety such as racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, breathlessness, rapid heart rate, fatigue, and sleeping issues. While we can’t necessarily stop our brains from perceiving “things that are out of our control” as danger that will trigger anxiety, we can control our response once anxiety shows up and we can also retrain our brains to not perceive a lack of control as anxiety. Below are a few helpful ideas of how to cope with anxiety caused by things out of your control .

Focus on what you can control

When things feel out of control in your life, it’s important to notice what is in your control so that you can focus your attention on those things as a way to reduce your anxiety. What you can control is your reaction to situations, how you choose to spend your time, and your general daily actions. In terms of your reaction to things that are out of your control, you can either respond by fighting reality, or you can choose to acknowledge what’s out of your control and instead to turn your attention to something positive. You can also choose to structure your time in such a way that focuses on tasks and interactions that are nurturing and empowering. Lastly, you can be intentional with your actions. You can practice mindfulness, watch some comedy or do something kind for someone else to divert your attention away from what is out of your control.

Radically Accept what’s not in your control

Radical acceptance, a popular DBT skill, involves letting go of wishing that your reality was different so that you are freed up to focus on other things in your life. Worrying about things that are out of your control will not alter the outcome, even if it feels as though your anxiety will some how prevent a future catastrophe. Mastering the skill of acceptance is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Acceptance is both a mental process and a practical skill. From a mental perspective, you can cultivate acceptance by using self talk to remind yourself that “it is what it is”. You can tell yourself that it’s perfectly okay to not have control over everything and remind yourself that you can always control your reactions. From a practical standpoint, you can ensure that you don’t put your energy into behaviors that will simply give you an illusion of being able to control the future or situations as this is a waste of time and harmful to your mental health.

Change your Interpretation to lower your anxiety

When you’re faced with situations that are of your control, instead of automatically viewing these situations as negative and anxiety provoking, you can choose to view them as opportunities for growth. However the situation unfolds, even if the outcome is unfavorable, you can always choose to focus on the resilience you will gain by enduring something unpredictable. Alternatively, if your mind usually jumps to negative conclusions about “out of control” events in your life, you can intentionally train your mind to look at the events in a neutral manner with an unknown conclusion. For example, we can acknowledge that we often don’t know how people in our lives are going to behave or what the results of a medical test are going to be or whether we’ll get hired for a job we applied to but that until we know how something is going to play out, we can view the process and outcome neutrally and not add catastrophizing judgments in the interim.

Talk to an anxiety therapist

Lastly, you can seek out counseling from an anxiety therapist to learn how to better manage your anxiety caused by things that are out of your control. A therapist is a professionally trained and compassionate expert who can teach you new skills for identifying and managing your anxiety. An anxiety therapist can provide a safe space for you to share your greatest fears and help keep you accountable to practicing skills that will prevent you from spinning into a dark anxiety spiral.

If you’re looking for an anxiety therapist in Chicago or online anywhere in Illinois, our therapists at Cityscape Counseling can help. Contact us today!

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