Releasing Control to Decrease Anxiety

By Jessica Glynn, LMSW

Many young New Yorkers anxieties are deeply rooted in a fear of uncertainty and the imperfection it may cause in their lives. For example, there may be uncertainty around where their job search will lead, and if they make the wrong decision, the idealized perfect career path will crumble. An important component of achieving perfection is control. Having complete control of everything is obviously an impossible feat, yet the fear is that if we can’t control every outcome, then we can’t achieve these perfect lives. 

I have seen this need for control and perfection in the search for a committed relationship. There is uncertainly around who we will meet and if a strong connection will build and lead to love. Although we can’t control this in any way, we often think we can by acting a certain way or being everywhere all the time so we don’t miss out on meeting that person. When these attempts don’t pan out, our thoughts usually head in the direction of, “I’ll never find love and I’m destined for a lifetime alone.” Sometimes these negative thought patterns serve as a way to be in control of disappointment— a defense mechanism against rejection or failure. There are infinite amounts of decisions to make in our everyday lives. If we put pressure on ourselves to make the perfect decision every single step of the way, ultimately that need for control will lead to anxiety. Anxiety about regret, anxiety about what could have been, and anxiety about the future. 

This is when the “now” gets lost. So ask yourself, what can I actually control in this very moment? Let’s take work for example. What at work do you have control of today, or this week? Maybe it’s doing the best job you can on a project or having a conversation with a manager about inefficiencies. Or, if you’re unhappy with your current role, perhaps putting forth the best effort to apply to the positions that are on the market that week. The goal is to stay away from the narratives that send you in a negative direction. 

For example, once you apply for the job you might start to get excited about it, but because of fear of disappointment, immediately spiral in a direction like, “it will never happen and I will be stuck in this dead-end position forever.” In reality, you will never be stuck as long as you try. If you keep applying, something is bound to come along. Even if it isn’t the “perfect” position you are looking for, it can lead to more opportunities and more doors opening in your future. 

If we can accept that we may not always like the position or situation that we are in at the moment AND also continue to strive toward our values and goals, then we will be heading in a direction that is productive. Looking too far ahead can detract from our current achievements, so it is important to recognize the “now” and what is actually in your control.

Jessica Glynn, LMSW is therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like to support in managing anxiety, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.