Anxiety and control

Sometimes it’s good to admit you can’t control everything, and take a rest from being General Manager of the Universe.  Photo by Guillermo Ferla on Unsplash

There is a strong link between anxiety and control.  If you think of anxiety as an uncertainty response, then it is understandable that it should be accompanied by behaviours which seek to gain control over events.

When focused on the individual, this can mean that anxiety gives rise to obsessive compulsive behaviour.  Whether focused on cleanliness, or tidiness, or food intake, the aim of many of these behaviours is to create some kind of predictability in the world around us.  Such behaviours can be counterproductive (e.g. food control can lead to starvation), but the intent to gain predictability is there.

Socially, anxiety can lead people to become controlling over others.  They do not mean it that way.  They would be mortified if they knew just how uncomfortable others are made by the controlling behaviour.  They will insist that they are the victim, and that they would much prefer not to impose themselves on others. It’s a classic and very normal behaviour.



When I am anxious, I may experience the urge to gain control over an uncertain world.

It’s a natural response, and there are so many ways in which it can be a good thing.  I can get on a bit of cleaning and tidying; I can set about improving my diet; I can even start to organise those around me.

But can I notice when the urge to control is getting out of hand?  Can I notice when I am washing my hands far more than warranted by the situation?  Can I notice when any object out of place disturbs me?  Can I notice when I get so fussy about food that it’s unhealthy?  Can I notice when I am becoming demanding over others, and limiting their happiness and freedom?

When I am anxious, I also need to learn to be OK with uncertainty.  To have some dirt, some mess, some unpredictability.  Not everything can be controlled.  Sometimes I have to resign as General Manager of the Universe, and simply accept the day as it is.