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Managing Anxiety Symptoms: How to let go of your need for control

managing anxiety

Anxiety symptoms have a range of ways they manifest in terms of behaviors. Excessive worry, the inability to concentrate, and increased irritability are a few of the ways one can experience anxiety, in addition to physical symptoms such as restlessness, difficulty sleeping, muscle aches, and fatigue.

Sometimes these symptoms trigger behaviors that we don’t always recognize as driven by anxiety – for example, the need for control.

Recognizing Anxiety-Driven Control Needs

When we are experiencing anxiety, it can be tempting to want absolute control over situations and events surrounding us as a way to reduce our anxiety. Wanting to increase your perception of control is not necessarily an unhealthy thing - in fact, studies show that individuals with higher perceptions of control tend to have lower anxiety.

The problem with this, however, is that we can never guarantee absolute control over situations we’re in, and in trying to gain control over anything but ourselves, we may be making our anxiety symptoms worse.

Imagine the anxiety in this situation

Let’s say you are on your way to a very important interview when you get stuck in traffic that is likely going to make you late.

There’s no end in sight to the line of cars in front of you and your GPS isn’t showing any other alternative route you can take.

Your anxiety might be presenting in the form of a shaking leg, tapping toes, wanting to beep the horn, and yelling out your window, “Come ON!”, and you might be having thoughts such as, “I can’t believe this is happening. I need this traffic to clear up. I HAVE to do this job interview! I’m going to be so screwed if I’m late!”.

What’s happening here is that you are frustrated with your lack of external control (your environment and the situation), and what would lower your anxiety is your ability to harness internal control (your response to what’s happening). Rather than wishing the situation were different, you can accept the situation for what it is, and do something that is actually within your control, such as deep breathing, or contacting your interviewer to inform them that you’ll be late, and trying to stay calm.

Shift your Focus to Internal Control

We spend a lot of time wanting to control things we can’t: whether or not that date calls you back, how someone reacts to you making a mistake at work, and the choices other people make in your life. When our anxiety only depends on how others act and whether or not a situation goes well, we give up the power we have in our own lives.

What we need to do is shift our focus away from external control and toward internal control. How we speak and act, how we interact with others, how we cope with stress and anxiety, and respond when things don’t go as planned are all our own decisions to make. These are the things worth harnessing your power over.

The Power of Radical Acceptance

Does this resonate with you? Are you interested in learning more about approaches you can take to reduce your need for control over your situations? 

Radical acceptance is a term that describes the concept of accepting situations and events for what they are as a way to reduce the suffering that comes from wishing things were different.

When it comes to managing emotions, we want to start by recognizing that the past cannot be changed and that there are elements of stressful situations outside of our control. Once we can accept whatever situation we are in, we can begin to heal, feel our natural emotions, or identify our power within the situation.

Seeking Professional Support for Anxiety Management

It’s okay to ask for support from a professional in learning ways to reduce your need for control. Understanding the roots of your need for control and how it triggers anxiety is crucial. Therapy can help uncover how past experiences shape your current behaviors and provide you with effective strategies for managing them.

If you're looking to reduce your anxiety and improve your mental health, consider reaching out to Revive Therapeutic Services.

We offer professional support across Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York, guiding you toward a more balanced and controlled emotional state

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