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To Control or Not To Control

I find many of my clients struggling with the issue of control, specifically the anxiety that surrounds so many of us when we are not in control. Do you ever find yourself spending countless hours worrying and stressing over another person’s behavior, what people think of you, how a decision you want to make for yourself will be perceived by others, what may or may not happen tomorrow, what did or did not happen yesterday?

You are not alone. It is common, normal and something that you can change if this pattern is not bringing you happiness.

The key to optimal mental health is to begin to recognize when you are expending energy on things you cannot control (other people) and to shift that energy towards the things you can control (your health). This is the tricky part – You have to do this while honoring your feelings about the things you cannot control (see my post on validation for more info on this).

Here is a simple exercise to get you started. Think of it as a bit of spring cleaning for your worry list. Compile a list of all the things you are worried about and stressed over. Think about how much energy you put into each item on your list. Then separate your list into two sections – one section of things you can do something about and one section of things you cannot do anything about. On the list of things you have control over I want you to write an action plan for what needs to be done to have a resolution – this will probably be the easier list to deal with!

The list of things you don’t have control over will need a more gentle approach. What do you need to do to find acceptance for these items? How can you let go of the sense that you can control them? What do you need to do to set up emotional boundaries so you protect yourself from what you don’t have control over? Try answering these questions by writing in a journal, talking to a trusted confidant, or trying out some talk therapy. The resolution won’t come overnight, but as you get better at setting healthy boundaries for yourself you will begin to experience relief – a reduction in stress, angst, and worry.

Alyson Ryan, LCSW

Alyson Ryan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and co-founder of South Bay Wellness. She is passionate about assisting individuals on their journey to live a more fulfilling, peaceful and rewarding life. She can be reached at

For more information on Alyson Ryan, visit her bio page at

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