Stress, anxiety, and the myth of control

hand drawn image of girl with anxiety

Most of us feel anxious at times, especially when there are lots of competing issues requiring our attention or action. People may worry about their work, finances, health (or that of their loved ones) or their relationships. They might agonise over decisions that they need to take or tasks that seem overwhelming. Many people feel anxious a lot of the time. Some can’t identify anything specific that is bothering them, or they recognise that their worries and ‘what ifs’ are disproportionate to the risk or likelihood of their fear becoming a reality.

The fear of being out of control is common among folk who are anxious. Some people develop phobias of situations where they believe they are out of control such as on a plane or underground train. Whilst we can exercise control over certain elements of our personal life or domestic existence, the reality is that we are in control of very little.

One of the things I discuss with my clients is the myth of control, perceptions of control, and learning to live comfortably without it.

What can we do?

So, if we can’t control much in our life, how do we cope? We learn to accept it!

That may sound easier to say than do, but it is perfectly possible through regular practise. One way is to learn mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness involves noticing your thoughts, acknowledging them, but not attaching to them. It’s best to allocate time and to find a quiet space to sit peacefully to meditate.

Many people think mindfulness is about relaxation, but this is another myth. Mindfulness may bring a sense of peace but it’s not about relaxing.

Figure your triggers

Another helpful tool for reducing anxiety is to make a mental (or written) note of when it occurs.

Are there any common scenarios? Where are you, what are you doing, and who are you with? Are you using social media or watching the news?

If you recognise patterns, you can consider practical changes you could implement to avoid or reduce your triggers. Can any of your current practices or scenarios be avoided or undertaken less frequently?

Every thought has a physiological response

If you’ve ever stood in the sweets aisle in a supermarket and noticed that you were salivating, or heard a spooky story and got goose bumps, you’ll know how our thoughts lead to physiological responses. This is true when we think about things that scare us… our body responds to our fear by preparing to flee, fight or freeze.

By modifying our thinking patterns, we can change our body’s responses. That’s why learning to question the legitimacy of our thoughts can be a useful skill. Naturally, there will be times when we’re not aware of ‘thinking a thought’ and this is why it’s good to make a note of the times when your heart rate speeds up, your chest feels tight, or your mouth feels dry.

Listen to your language

How we talk affects how we feel.

If you say something (about yourself or a situation) repeatedly, it strengthens your belief that it is true, whether there’s any evidence to support your statement or not.

Speak about yourself and your abilities in a positive way and avoid making causal links between events, your mood or ability to cope.

(This article originally featured in Valley Life magazine)

If this all sounds good in theory, but hard to imagine doing, book a free phone consultation to find out how I could help.

Or download my ‘No-nonsense guide to managing anxiety’ for tools, tips and techniques.

You might also enjoy