Control and Anxiety
Anxiety comes in many shapes and sizes. It is a condition that doesn’t not discriminate. In a UK survey 1 in 6 adults reported suffering from a ‘neurotic health problem’ in the past week. A study by the Psychiatric Morbidity Survey found 3 million people in Great Britain have experienced or live with some form of anxiety disorder. So, if you suffer from worry, anxiety, fear or dread – you are not alone!
Whether you suffer from low-level worry or full-blown anxiety, it can be crippling. It is exhausting and can sabotage your happiness and wellbeing. It can damage relationships and prevent us from doing the things we would like, and living the life we want.
One of the main causes of anxiety is a perception of need for control. The feeling of wanting to be in control and the fear of losing control, can manifest as anxiety in various forms. Whether that is worry, paranoia, projecting ‘what-ifs’, phobias, performing habits or rituals, muscle tension, IBS, irritability, sleepless nights, panic attacks, or on the extreme end of the spectrum a paralysing fear of death.
It is completely natural to have a slight fear of the unknown. Circumstances like buying a property, looking for a soul mate, going through separation or loss, trying for a baby, applying for jobs or starting a business can cause us to feel anxious for certainty and security. It’s pretty normal to play out different scenarios in your mind perhaps before an interview or important event. We do this as a coping mechanism we believe will prepare us for any outcome, so that we won’t be surprised, angry, disappointed, nervous or have any other unwanted emotions. The desire for control is paradoxical, we believe that having control over things will bring us happiness but actually it is quite the opposite, mainly because having control is impossible.
Experiencing something negative or traumatic can cause us to be scared of the same situation happening again and the desire for control or avoidance. The feeling of doom or dread here, can seem a warranted survival instinct. But when a perceived need for control begins to affect us mentally and physically – this is anxiety and this is when we need intervention to restore a healthy outlook and overall well being. Life is unpredictable and however much we try to plan ahead there are many things that are just out of our control. We can always try to prepare, plan ahead, do our best or the right thing. But whether it’s our relationships, work, the development of our children, an investment we have made into a business or other endeavour or even the weather – there are many things that are just out of our hands and we have zero power over.
In professor Steve Peters’ book The Chimp Paradox he actually equates wariness or worry experienced by modern humans to female chimpanzees. Apparently the more hyper vigilant the female chimps were, the better they survived and cared for their young in the jungle. Therefore this fear of losing control is something that has possibly survived through evolution.
Whether you believe we have evolved from apes or not, the fact is anxiety is a massive issue in today’s world. It has so many knock on effects and ultimately prevents us from living happy and fulfilled lives. So what can we do about it?
It is important to come to terms with the fact that we cannot control things. In life – the only thing that is predictable is unpredictability! Once we can accept that plans change, people change and sometimes things just don’t turn out the way we expected or wanted, we develop a positive outlook and our mental health improves.
Learning to let go can be one of the most rewarding things we can do for ourselves. The amazing thing is, if we do it right – it is something that’s free and you can do it right now! If you can learn to surrender to uncertainty and accept the unknown you will free yourself from the anxiety that holding on and resistance causes. Let’s face it, we can’t beat it so why fight it? You are only putting yourself through torture trying to micromanage your life, events or even other people’s lives.
We must firstly begin to address the triggers of our control. Where has this stemmed from? What causes it? Perhaps it’s experienced because of an unreliable relationship, an addiction, a fear of something, an unrealistic desire or expectation, or a turbulent living conditions. As creatures of habit we commonly protect ourselves with go-to habits. When we can recognise these thought patterns we are able to break them down and analyse how they could be harming us.
You have the power to let go of control. It starts with taking small steps towards gaining self-discipline over your negative thoughts. Here are my practical solutions for letting go of control that is causing you anxiety.
- Have a mantra or affirmation and repeat it to yourself, or pin it somewhere visible. Such as: “I cannot control what is going to happen, and that is ok.” Or “I accept that I can deal with whatever situation arises at the time.”
- Think of what is the worst that could happen. Then ask yourself, is it really that bad? If it did happen how would you deal with it? – this can be applied to day to day worries that in the grand scheme of things actually aren’t that bad.
- Daily breathing and meditation exercises.
- Removing yourself from chaotic ways of living or negative relationships.
- Addiction therapy.
- Cognitive hypnotherapy sessions that involve CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This works by adapting people’s attitudes and their behaviour by looking at thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes that we hold in our intellectual reasoning process. In the sessions we observe how these patterns affect how we deal with emotions.