How to Let Go of Control

Life is unpredictable. For those of us who are prone to anxiety, this is a very uncomfortable fact. Many people cope with the fear of what could happen by always trying to be in control. You might try to plan every possible outcome in your mind, thinking of everything that could go wrong. You might keep a tight schedule and lots of lists to stay in control. Of course, the feeling of control that comes from ruminating or endless worrying is largely an illusion. In fact, most things around you are not in your control.

Some things we can’t control

  • Traffic

  • Weather

  • Knowing what will happen or how things will turn out

  • What already is, such as being late for something

  • Things that have already happened

  • Other people, including their what they say or do, their thoughts, feelings, reactions, expectations or what they think of us

  • Our own thoughts and feelings that arise spontaneously

"You can’t flatten the ocean, but you can learn to ride the waves."

You can think of the things that are out of your control like waves on the ocean. Often, it feels like, "If I can just get past this thing (whatever the wave is today), then everything will be fine." We forget that there will be another wave along shortly. And 100 more after that, all the way to the horizon. Unexpected experiences and difficult feelings are unavoidable. In fact, they are part of a rich, human life. Many times, we add to our own stress by struggling against what we cannot control. We can learn to let the “waves” pass by: our thoughts, our feelings, unexpected circumstances, and other things out of our control. Then we are freer to focus our time and energy on what is within our power. Instead of constantly reacting, you can intentionally focus on what's important to you instead.

Practice "Willing Hands":

We can practice being willing to let go of things we can’t control. Experiment with approaching life with “willing hands.” To practice, place your hands face up on your lap loosely to remind your body to have a posture of acceptance. This is the opposite of the clenched fists we might make when struggling against something. Try these steps when calm, and then try applying it in situations that normally make you anxious or frustrated:

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your hands face up on your lap. Close your eyes.

  • Turn your attention to your breathing.

  • Bring to mind a situation that you find stressful and see if you can identify what aspects are out of your control. See the list above for suggestions.