Overthinkers often believe that if you can have everything in life planned out and organised, know what’s happening where, when, how and with whom, then you’ll be able to stop worrying. If only it was really true. Trying to keep control of everything doesn’t stop you worrying so it’s time we took a different approach.
In this episode we look at:
Podcast episode 9 The truth about controlling worry
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m a writer and teacher specialising in overthinking and overworrying. Here I share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.
Hello and welcome to episode 9. Today I’m talking about the belief we have that if we can just keep control of everything it will all be okay and we can stop worrying.
As you’re listening to this I’m guessing you like to have things planned out, you like to know what’s happening, where, when, how and with whom. You like to have thought of every possibility, rehearsed conversations, explored the full range of possible scenarios, and have a pretty good idea of how those involved will react.
Worriers don’t like worrying, it’s not something anyone enjoys. You know you do it more than is helpful and you don’t like how it feels so you look for ways you can eliminate the worry. That sounds logical, doesn’t it? So if you’ve got a handle on everything, if you’re in control and have thought of everything, you can stop worrying. Can’t you?
Much as I wish it were true, it isn’t. Planning to the nth degree, striving to keep everything under your control doesn’t stop you worrying.
I know why you think it should, I get that this is jarring with you. So let me give you an example. You’re going to an event and you only know a couple of people who are going to be there. You’re nervous because you haven’t been to the venue before or you don’t know who else will be there or what time it’s going to finish. So if you can get all those details sorted so there are no more unknowns you’ll no longer be nervous and you can stop worrying about it. But then again, what if the people you think are going to be there aren’t? There’s no way to know exactly who else will be there and what they’ll be like so it’s not possible for you to have that under control. What if it finishes early, what if it ends later than planned? How will that make you feel, what will you do? What if, what if, what if?
You did your absolute utmost to plan and prepare and think about the issue from every angle so that you could tick any worries you have off your list. Except you can’t. Because there’s always a What If lurking somewhere. You will always be able to find a What if. You may have thought and prepared for ten possible outcomes but then What If pipes up with the 11th possibility. You could plan for 1000 variables but What If will still find the 1001st and drop it in your lap.
And then you’re back to square one, back in the overthinking vortex.
Maintaining complete control is impossible. Not simply improbable, it’s impossible. However much you want it to be possible.
Situations cannot be controlled, people cannot be controlled and outcomes certainly cannot be in yours or anyone else’s complete control. This doesn’t mean that letting go of total control means you’re completely out of control and you’re giving in to chaos. But, I appreciate that this is a toughie.
Okay, so, the tighter you try to keep a grip on control, with the intention of pacifying your worries, the less likely you are to find peace. You spend so much energy, time and brain power on managing what’s happening, trying to anticipate changes and worrying about the What Ifs, that you aren’t a part of what’s going on around you, you may barely notice it in fact. And once it’s over there’s a good chance you’ll realise that your What Ifs never materialised, your worries were unfounded and you missed out because you were so occupied with keeping everything in your control.
You wind up feeling exhausted, let down by the actions you thought would help you and disappointed that you spent more energy worrying than you did enjoying yourself or simply being part of it all.
And what about those around you? How does this desire to control in the name of keeping people safe and happy, of getting work completed, of being responsible, of making sure things are okay and nothing goes wrong, impact the people you love, those you work with or spend time with?
In the process of wanting to feel in control of a situation it’s easy to feel the need to know what other people are doing, where they’re going and when,
how they’re going to think, feel, act or react. If that doesn’t fit in to what you believe needs to happen for everything to be okay than there can be the tendency to want to exert a little bit of control over them too. Not in a sinister, threatening, take-away-your-liberty way. You want what’s best for them but there is still the desire to influence other people’s behaviour to fit in with what you can control so that you can stop worrying. And when those around you realise that you’re micro-managing them they may not like it so much.
The fact is you can never be in complete control. Striving to stay in control doesn’t lessen your worry, it maintains it or even increases it. I’m not suggesting you go to the other extreme either, that’s not helpful, I’m not suggesting you give up planning, preparing, asking questions or relinquishing all responsibility in life.
So what can you do?
First of all, learn to recognise what you’re doing, look out for the signs that you’re overthinking, and overplanning. Is it really essential for you to know every single detail? Is it your sole responsibility to have every aspect nailed down? Are you trying to second-guess people? Are you creating multiple possible scenarios and are you trying to influence others without them really realising? Ask yourself why you’re doing this and be honest, you don’t need to admit it to anyone else if you don’t want to but you do need to be truthful with yourself.
The next thing to do is give yourself a break. Be kind to yourself. You’re not a bad person, you’re not trying to play puppet master and you don’t want to be controlling. You worry, you want what’s best for everyone and your intentions are good. Worrying this much is no fun, you don’t want to feel like this, you don’t want to spend so much time overthinking and you don’t want to micromanage other people. Be kind to yourself, this is difficult.
Now that you’re aware your worrying is leading you to try to control a situation, and you’ve decided this is not how you want to feel or act, you can begin to gently loosen that controlling grip.
• You know deep down that you can’t plan for every possible outcome so recognise the truth and tell yourself that.
• You know that trying to be in control doesn’t make you worry any less. What you think is helping you is actually keeping you stuck in overthinking. It’s hard to admit but you know it to be true.
• You know that you have managed, coped with, and survived every unexpected and unplanned for event and situation that life has thrown at you so far because here you are today. You have a 100% success rate at life.
• And you know that relinquishing just a little bit of that need to be in control doesn’t make you out of control. It doesn’t mean that your life will fall apart and anarchy will reign. It means that you are in charge of your own life, not your worry, as you have known all along.
So, how would it feel to have a go at relaxing your need to always be in control, even just a little bit? We’re not talking about giving up all responsibility and being entirely spontaneous, just not trying to control 100% of everything in your life. With the payoff being you get to spend a little bit less of your time worrying and a little, hopefully a lot, more of your energy enjoying life.
Let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear about it.
Thank you for joining me for Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers. You can find the show notes and other episodes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.
If you’d like to build your resilience, feel more optimistic, spend less time overthinking and more time enjoying what’s already in your life, by creating your own daily gratitude practice, take a look at A Thankful Heart, my three-week e-course that’s available to start whenever you are. Go to gabrielletreanor.com/courses to find all the information and join.
You can also share photos of the joyful moments in your day with me on Instagram with hashtag savouringhappiness and I’m @gabrielletreanor.
Thanks again for listening, until next time, lovely people.
Throughout this website and my work when I refer to women I include people identifying as women.
If you have, or think you may have, a mental health problem that requires professional diagnosis or treatment, please consult a mental health care professional and your GP.
You can also talk to the people at Mind on 0300 123 3393 or SANE on 0300 304 7000 or Samaritans on 116 123.
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