Stress And Our Need For Control

by Doc Orman, M.D.

This week, I’ll be focusing on our need for control and how this can lead to stress in our lives.  As human beings, we all have strong needs for control.  We have needs for controlling our inner world, including our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors.  We also have very strong needs for controlling our external circumstances, which includes the behaviors of others, as much as is humanly possible.

When things are going well in our lives, and we feel mostly in control of both our inner and outer worlds, all is well and our stress levels are usually low.  On the other hand, when either our internal or external worlds are unsettled or wildly out of control, we can become anxious, worried, angry or depressed.  These are all very common forms of “stress,” and they usually prompt us to try to restore whatever modicum of control we may have previously had.

Mistaken Ideas About Control

While seeking more control may be an admirable goal, especially if you feel you are lacking in this area, we often have mistaken ideas about what we can or can’t  control.  These mistaken ideas lead us to adopt a host of mistaken strategies, which not only fail to relieve our stress, but they actually add more layers to it.

For example, most people know that it’s extremely difficult to control the behaviors of other people. Yet does this stop us from frequently trying to accomplish this feat?  Sometimes it may, but many times it does not.

At the far opposite extreme, we can have equally mistaken ideas about what we cannot control, even when a good degree of control is entirely within our grasp.  For example, many people believe they have little or no control over their negative emotions.   But this is not really so.  Most human beings can exert a tremendous amount of control over their emotions, provided they know how to deploy the right insights and coping strategies to accomplish this.

Double Whammy Effect

Thus, our mistaken ideas about control can cause us to end up with stress in two basic ways:

  1. By causing us to try to control things we can’t really control; and
  2. By causing us to fail to exert control over things we truly can do something about.

This “double whammy” effect produces an enormous amount of stress for us today.  And for the most part, we don’t easily see these two factors as underlying causes of our stress, so therefore we don’t easily recognize when our own ideas about control are either incorrect or unrealistic.

In my next two posts this week, we’ll take a deeper look at both of these two common, control-related, hidden causes of stress.



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