The Anxious Need to Control (What It Is and What to Do About It)

Jordan Brown

Have you ever been stressed or anxious?

Have you noticed what tends to occur when you're stressed or anxious?

For me, at least, my innate desire is to attempt to control what's happening to me.

If I'm stressed, I usually want to focus on situations, people, or actions that I can control.

And since stress and anxiety are often linked, this also happens when I'm feeling anxious.

Can you relate?

Feeling that we need to control our environments, especially during times of stress, is a natural phenomenon.

But that doesn't mean it's the best way to go about things.

Let's figure out why we try to control during times of elevated stress and anxiety.

And then let's figure out what we can do about it.

The Need to Control

Take a wedding, for example.

Weddings are one of the most stressful events I can think of. The people getting married want their special day to be perfect. They want everything to be just so.

And so what happens during times of wedding anxiety? People tend to obsess over the details of the big day. The flowers must be PERFECT. The seating arrangements must be PERFECT.

But is anything ever perfect?

Of course not. That's impossible.

Then why do our brains think that it needs to be that way?

The answer stems from the stress and anxiety. One core component of anxiety is the fear of possibility. It's a great, big world out there, and anything can happen in it. When our brains get stuck on all the things that could happen, we become hyper-alert and hone in on the ways to prevent the scariest scenarios.

This sounds good in theory, but the problem is that most scenarios are not likely to happen at all. Especially the scariest ones we can imagine. And, so, this poses a problem. Now, a deluge of scenarios have entered our brain. The raging winds and rising waters are here--and they feel like they are closing in on us.

Enter the need to control. It's only natural to try to focus on an object, person, interaction, situation--or whatever--that we can control.

The problem? This hardly ever works. There's a better way.

How to Let Go of The Anxious Need to Control

To break free from the need to control, you have to change your mindset.

Let's go back to our wedding example. The soon-to-be-married couple will not be happy if they hold onto their need to control. They will end up miserable. They can only control their actions and responses to unpleasant situations, not all the minutiae of the day as it unfolds.

They must adopt a mindset of acceptance.

And, let's be honest, this is frustrating. What's with having to accept everything that happens to us? It's the kind of thing that sounds too simple to be true. And that's because it's almost always the simplest explanation that leads to the most fundamental change.

But just because something sounds simple doesn't mean it's simple to implement. Implementation can take time. Or it can happen in an instant. It all depends on your approach.

So this is what I want you to do if you are dealing with an overwhelming desire to control you environment.


  1. Acknowledge that feeling - You're not a bad person because you feel you need to control what's happening to you. You're a human being. Simply acknowledge what you're going through. This is step one--and it's a very important step.
  2. Consider a potential worst-case scenario, and either say it out loud or write it down. Taking one of these two actions will usually reveal how ridiculous these thoughts are that your brain comes up with. Plus, this is how you get space from your loopy thoughts. This is how you get ready for step three.
  3. Take action. What kind of action, you ask? Any action. Don't continue to think. Don't write or talk to yourself for hours. Take a simple action. Do the first thing that feels good. Look around, smile, and be in the moment. It's action that cuts through anxiety, like a knife slicing through the air.

Anxiety doesn't know what to do when you take action.

Anxiety thrives when you're stuck in your head and when your body is immobilized. Anxiety and action literally can't exist together.

Think about anxious times in your life. What happens when you're taking action? You can't worry at the same time because you're too busy doing something in the moment. This is how it works.

Remember, feeling like you need to control what's around you doesn't make you a bad person. It's a natural reaction to stressful events.

And some people become more anxious than others. I'm prone to anxiety. It's just how it is. But I've learned to accept my thoughts and distance myself from them.

And then I take action.

Now it's your turn.

Can you try this simple approach today to let go of your need to control?

What do you have to lose?

I think you know the answer to that.