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What to Do When Life Feels Out of Control

Throughout the course of a day, you must make numerous decisions.

Whether it’s deciding what to wear, what activities to do, or who to see, life consists of constant decision-making at almost every moment.

Although you can make life decisions and plans, no one can ever be prepared for the unexpected.

When these unexpected events pile up, it’s easy to become overly anxious and feel like your life is spinning out of control. This is why we seek control whenever possible.

Feeling out of control stems from the anxiety of not always being able to take control of your life.

People have no idea when disaster will strike or how long it will last, so it causes fear, which triggers other emotions such as sadness, frustration, and anger.

The best way to deal with this is to learn to be content with not knowing. Of course, this is easier said than done, and it is an ongoing process, but it is worthwhile.

This article discusses some of the reasons why you may feel like your life is spinning out of control and offers suggestions for dealing with these feelings.

When you’re going through a difficult time and everything seems out of your control, you may want to scream in your car, wonder what you did to deserve this, or believe that it will never get better… Is any of this familiar?

However, it turns out that practicing acceptance is a more beneficial way to deal with things over which we have no control.

Acceptance makes us feel empowered about the things we can do rather than seeing ourselves as victims or our situation as negative.

Feeling out of control can be frustrating, whether you can’t stop snapping at people, drinking, or thinking stupid thoughts.

It’s both frightening and exciting at times… until the next day when we realize what we’ve done.

It’s natural to feel out of control every now and then. We all make mistakes and do things we later come to regret. But if you’re constantly losing control, there’s probably something else going on.

Feeling out of control

There are numerous ways we can feel out of control.

You may find yourself doing things you don’t want to do repeatedly. Even if you want to stop doing these things, you may find that you simply cannot. This might look like:

  • performing rituals repeatedly because they make you feel safe and cause extreme anxiety if you don’t do them (this can be a sign of OCD)
  • Addiction to anything – drugs, alcohol, video games, social media, or sex
  • self-harming
  • binge-eating or changing your eating habits
  • over-exercising

We usually get into this cycle in order to avoid a difficult feeling.

When we feel we have no power or control over our lives, we can concentrate our efforts on the things we do have control over.

This can help us cope in a world where we may not be getting the support we require.

These habits or addictions can provide us with a sense of relief or a way to avoid unpleasant emotions.

But this relief is only temporary, because those difficult feelings will return sooner or later, and we will feel compelled to repeat the action.

This cycle can be difficult to break, but with the right support, you can do it.

Reasons You May Feel Your Life Is Out of Control

We all have different motivations, some logical and some more emotional.

These motivations sometimes contradict one another. Your emotional brain may want to smack someone, but your logical brain does not want to be arrested.

Logical decisions require more mental energy than emotional ones. The more we are distracted, the more difficult it is to think logically. Here are a few examples of things that can make it difficult to control your behavior:

Emotions are running high. Anger, fear, stress, and grief are among the most common offenders. These emotions can affect our behavior even when we are not aware of them.

Talking about your feelings with someone and keeping a journal are both excellent ways to figure out what you’re feeling and why.

Restlessness. If you are dissatisfied with your life, you may begin to make rash decisions simply because you feel stuck. It could be as simple as boredom.

Or maybe there’s something you want out of life but aren’t getting it. Instead of randomly acting out, try to figure out what’s missing and how you can change it.

Your level of energy. If you are physically or mentally exhausted, you will have less energy to make good decisions. Sometimes all it takes is a nap or a snack to get you in the right frame of mind.

Talking about your feelings with someone and keeping a journal are both excellent ways to figure out what you’re feeling and why.

Restlessness. If you are dissatisfied with your life, you may begin to make rash decisions simply because you feel stuck. It could be as simple as boredom.

Or maybe there’s something you want out of life but aren’t getting it. Instead of randomly acting out, try to figure out what’s missing and how you can change it.

Your level of energy. If you are physically or mentally exhausted, you will have less energy to make good decisions. Sometimes all it takes is a nap or a snack to get you in the right frame of mind.

The people who surround you. Peer pressure may be a cliche, but it exists. It will be more difficult to resist that extra glass of wine if you are with people who drink a lot.

Surround yourself with people you admire and who act the way you want to act.

Practice. Breaking a habit is difficult, but with practice, it becomes easier. You will eventually be able to replace bad habits with good ones, and better decision-making will become second nature.

Alcohol or drugs Alcohol and drugs lower your inhibitions. They reduce your awareness of your surroundings and what is socially acceptable.

They also make it more difficult to remember your long-term goals and keep your behavior consistent with them.

Mental well-being. Certain mental health issues have a particularly strong influence on behavior.

If you suffer from ADHD, bipolar disorder, or psychosis, you may require more specialized treatment to regain control of your behavior.

There are numerous reasons why life may feel out of control, some of which are as follows:

Stress

Anxiety and overwhelming feelings are frequently caused by stress that appears from nowhere.

The pressures of having to keep everything together for their family, job, and finances can cause a person to feel overwhelmed.

Stress can be extremely toxic, and it is very easy for it to make life feel out of control, so it is critical to try to manage stress.

Health

People frequently worry about their mental and physical health, especially if they have a health condition or are predisposed to one. Then there’s the possibility of unexpected health problems.

There are many health issues that are simply beyond one’s control. They can be caused by genetics, environmental factors, or simply by chance.

It is terrifying to be constantly concerned about not only your own health but also the health of loved ones.

Health can be a very stressful aspect of life, but stress can cause a variety of health problems. It can be difficult not to worry and wonder about your health, but it is critical that you do not worry excessively.

You can only concentrate on what you can control: taking necessary health precautions, engaging in wellness practices, and attempting to remain optimistic.

Relationships

All of the different relationships in your life can start to feel overwhelming. Although you may be grateful for these relationships, they will have an impact on you at times.

Every relationship, whether you’re a parent, spouse, friend, caregiver, etc., comes with its own set of responsibilities.

Relationships entail responsibilities, compromise, and the acceptance of other people’s feelings and problems.

When a loved one is going through a difficult situation, it can be extremely stressful for you.

Relationships are important in life, but they should not consume your life, especially not to the point of negatively impacting your mental health.

Furthermore, if you are in a toxic relationship (with a partner, friend, or even a family member), you may feel as if your life is spinning out of control, especially if all attempts to repair the relationship have failed.

National Disasters

Living through a pandemic while also witnessing natural disasters and social injustices has been overwhelming for everyone.

It is critical to find ways to process everything that is going on in the world because constantly hearing about tragedies can lead to feelings of defenselessness, anxiety, fear, and even anger.

Work At times, a person’s job consumes all of their time and appears to take over their entire life.

People can become overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do both inside and outside of the workplace.

It’s easy to get caught up in the need to stay busy and productive all the time, but striking a healthy balance is essential.

Tragedy

If you’ve been through a traumatic life event (for example, a family death, job loss, etc.), you may be feeling extremely overwhelmed.

When tragedy strikes, it is often unexpected or jarring, resulting in a flood of overwhelming emotions. Because these situations are beyond your control, you may feel helpless and lost.

Furthermore, tragic events typically elicit painful emotions that can linger long after the event has passed.

A tragedy may feel like an attack that you did not see coming or could not prevent.

In fact, the unexpected death of a loved one is one of the most common traumatic experiences, and this type of trauma is cited as a major leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Regardless of the nature of the tragic event, it is common to experience a flood of varying emotions, and it may appear that coping with them is too difficult.

When confronted with such uncontrollable circumstances, you may feel as if you have no control over your own emotions or your reaction to the tragedy.

Unusual encounters

You could be going through something strange, out of the ordinary, and possibly frightening. As an example:

  • not knowing what is real and what isn’t – for example, hallucinating, hearing voices, or having the impression that someone else is controlling your body (these can be signs of psychosis)
  • having extreme mood swings (this can be a sign of bipolar disorder)
  • having manic episodes, which can include excessive talking, racing thoughts, arrogance, and increased activity
  • uncontrollable desire to harm oneself or others
  • close-up of a boy in a grey hoodie listening to his teacher’s advice in front of him

Feeling out of control can be terrifying, especially if we are afraid of hurting ourselves or others. Remember that what you are experiencing is nothing to be ashamed of.

We all react differently to life’s challenges, and how we react when we’re sick can be perplexing to others.

However, just because you are experiencing something strange does not make you ‘crazy.’

If your experiences and behaviors indicate that you are in danger of harming yourself or others, you may need to seek treatment in a hospital.

We understand that this can be frightening, but we have plenty of information and advice that can help.

What to Do When Things Feel Out of Control

When life feels out of control, some of the steps listed below may be helpful.

Stop and Take a Break

It is necessary to take breaks from time to time. It is perfectly acceptable to give yourself some alone time to meditate, de-stress, and practice self-care.

A recent study discovered that medical students who practiced self-care had better stress management and quality of life than those who did not.

Attempt to Alter Your Viewpoint

Rather than viewing your life as “out of control,” consider adopting a “it is what it is” attitude for the time being.

This does not imply putting up with bad treatment. Instead, it simply means letting go of the need to control everything; letting go of the need to control everything can lead to greater life satisfaction.

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Take Charge of What You Can Change

People may not have control over everything in their lives, but they do have control over some things.

Work on changing the things in your life over which you have control, such as going to the gym more often, eating fewer sweets, or removing a toxic person from your life.

Even the smallest thing can help you establish a sense of control and optimism in your life.

Be Self-Assured in Your Life Decisions

Life can feel out of control at times when you are constantly worried and wondering if you are making the right decisions.

When it comes to the things you can control, you want to make sure you get it just right, almost perfect—but nothing is ever perfect.

Take pride in what you’ve created for your life, and if you’ve made a few mistakes, learn from them and move on. These blunders may have aided in personal development and wisdom.

Suffering breeds resilience and determination to pursue better opportunities in life.

So, whatever path you choose in life, it is important to remember not to worry too much about how things will turn out.

Try to be grateful for difficult situations in your life because they push you to keep going and bring you to better times.

Discuss it.

It is beneficial to discuss what is causing you to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

It’s beneficial to have someone with whom you can express your concerns and worries, whether it’s a loved one or professional advice from a therapist.

They can assist you in deconstructing these emotions and sorting them out appropriately.

Take up a New Interest

Hobbies are a great way to distract yourself from things you can’t change.

Hobbies, whether it’s going for a daily walk or writing a few sentences in your journal, can help you feel a bit of an escape from life’s challenges.

Hobbies, in a way, serve as a simple reminder that you do control your life because you get to choose how you spend your free time.

Consider the positive.

Attempt to think positively. Life will not always feel this way, but if you believe it will, it will. Focus on what is going well in your life and strive to be grateful for what you do have.

It’s also important to remember that you have to take the bad with the good at times.

Make an effort to appreciate difficult situations in your life because they can foster so much personal growth.

Control stimuli

Agency begins with what you allow into your mind—that is, what you allow into your environment.

If you lack agency, your attention is most likely being diverted, and you must figure out how to reclaim it.

For example, studies have shown that having a phone nearby while working distracts you and interferes with your ability to think.

Taking a walk, on the other hand, is a good way to replenish depleted attention in your brain so you can concentrate better later.

Practice going to quiet and screen-free spaces to escape overstimulation to help you increase your agency.

This could include spending time in nature, turning off phone notifications at work, or avoiding eating in noisy cafeterias.

Law of Attraction

Associate selectively

It’s impossible not to be affected by those around us; for example, it’s easy to “catch” their emotions, and our brains tend to sync up when we interact with others.

That means setting boundaries with difficult people, distancing yourself from negative online interactions, and being more aware of how you might be vulnerable to “groupthink”—pressures to behave or think in ways that contradict your values.

Instead, surround yourself with people who encourage you to reach your full potential, nurture your talents, affirm your values and difficult decisions, and give you a reality check when you’ve acted inappropriately or are stuck in negative thinking.

You can also become involved in your community by volunteering or simply talking with local merchants or neighbors.

These positive social interactions will improve your mental and physical health, which are two essential components of agency.

Move

Physical activity, combined with adequate rest and nutrition, brings your body and mind into balance, resulting in increased motivation, strength, and stamina.

According to research, sitting for long periods of time is harmful to your health, and even short breaks from concentrated periods of inactivity, such as stretching or walking around the block, are beneficial.

Exercise may also lead to increased self-control—the ability to postpone gratification, which is essential for agency.

Set a timer to go off every hour and remind yourself to take a moment to assess your mood if you’re deep in work.

Get up and move if you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed. And, if you’re having problems at work, discussing them in a walking meeting (rather than a sitting meeting) may help you resolve them.

Position yourself as a student.

People with high levels of agency are constantly learning new things and expanding their learning capacity by taking a more open, collaborative approach to everything in life.

This necessitates cultivating your curiosity and allowing yourself to experiment with new ideas, skills, and people.

Take an interesting class, explore your world kinetically (with your hands or body), or spend time playing or imagining.

You can also learn from others by remaining curious and asking open-ended questions, listening to gain understanding, and refraining from making snap judgments.

This isn’t always simple. A growth mindset, in which you recognize that you are a work in progress capable of learning and changing, can help you overcome the fear of failure or judgment that often comes with learning new things.

If you’re having trouble letting go of perfectionism, try mindfulness meditation, which has been shown to reduce self-judgment, or cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques that help put mistakes into perspective.

Control your emotions and beliefs.

Too often, we operate from unconscious beliefs, such as “I’m too old to learn a new job skill” or “No one will ever want to be in a relationship with me,” without realizing how they prevent us from even trying certain things.

When we are driven by unconscious emotions such as fear, sadness, or worry, it can sap our energy and make us feel doomed or overwhelmed, reducing our agency.

Increasing your awareness of how your emotions and beliefs influence your thinking, behavior, and judgment will help you navigate life with more confidence.

While it may take some effort to uncover these inner thoughts and emotions, being more self-reflective helps you stay grounded by slowing down your thinking process.

Try to catch yourself the next time you are angry with yourself. Don’t automatically accept or, worse, dwell on that harmful emotion. Instead, pause and think about it. What is causing this reaction in me?

Am I putting too much pressure on myself? Perhaps my beliefs and expectations need to be revised. Begin by slowing your thinking. Deep, slow breaths. Locate a quiet area for yourself.

Let go of the tension in your muscles consciously. These simple techniques will help you relax while also increasing your self-awareness.

This increases your agency by giving you more control over what you feel and think.

We can practice more self-control and agency by learning to recognize our inner emotions and thoughts, name them, and let them pass through us.

Examine your intuition.

Consider intuition to be deep inner knowledge made up of millions of data points gathered by our brains over the course of our lives.

When used wisely, it can greatly enhance our creativity and assist us in making important decisions, thereby increasing our level of agency.

Many of us have had visceral, gut feelings about people or things, such as when you meet a new boss and immediately know he’s bad news.

This type of intuition can be useful in situations involving unclear social demands and few clues to navigate them.

However, you must exercise caution to avoid conflating intuition with bias and prejudice.

When emotions are high, such as during a job interview or when swiping on Tinder, it’s best to slow down, take a breath, check in with others, and gather more information rather than relying solely on quick, automatic impressions.

Strategic intuition, a type of intuition, is more deliberate. For example, you decide to stop thinking about a particularly vexing problem at work, and a solution appears while out for a long run, in the shower, or after meditating.

Finally, “expert” intuition develops after years, if not decades, of practice at a particular skill. Less conscious parts of your brain can take over here if you remain calm.

Consider a pilot performing an emergency landing and allowing their mind and body to perform as needed without consciously thinking through each step.

If you learn to quiet your mind, develop a greater awareness of what you’re thinking and feeling, and listen to your body, you can improve your ability to use intuition to inform your decision-making.

Consider, then act

People with low agency face common roadblocks when attempting to make sound decisions.

They may procrastinate, obsess over details, or worry excessively throughout the process; they may lack confidence and be risk-averse; or their thinking may be too quick and they act on impulse.

When making a major decision, such as where to live or how to advance your career, it is beneficial to pause and reflect first.

Put yourself in a reflective and exploratory environment, and make sure you have time and your emotions are calm.

Then, concentrate on the issue at hand long enough to clarify your primary goal and what is at stake. It also helps to ask open-ended questions and gather relevant facts.

It’s a good idea to generate many options at first to ensure that no strong emotions or biases are driving your thoughts.

Then, based on those options, you can create a plan for yourself, putting your thoughts and decisions in writing. The strategy should simplify your options and include the most important information.

Allow your mind to rest and any intuition to rise to the surface at this point. Set your plan aside and return to it later to reassess it, making changes as needed.

Remember that taking action does not necessitate complete certainty. Higher-level officials will begin to act if they are 80 percent certain or more.

So, don’t overthink things before acting. If necessary, you can always reassess later.

Having more agency means taking charge of your life. The next time you notice something that doesn’t feel quite right around you—or within you—don’t ignore it and keep going.

Develop the discipline to pause, pay attention, and work toward a better path for yourself. You will have more influence over your life and a greater impact on the lives of others if you practice more agency.

What’s the big deal about acceptance?

Accepting something unpleasant does not imply that you approve of it.

You accept your friends exactly as they are. You know you’re not responsible for their actions, and you certainly can’t control them, so when they do things you disagree with, you mostly just accept it.

It’s the same when you’re going through a difficult period in your life. Things can happen that are completely out of your control, such as a relationship breakdown, a drought, or the death of someone close to you.

What's the big deal about acceptance?

It’s natural to feel sad, angry, and extremely irritated. The problem is that refusing to accept these things and remaining angry will only lead to more hurt and upset.

If you can accept that this is what is happening right now, your mind can turn to what you can do to improve things.

Acceptance isn’t easy, that’s for sure. Consider something you’ve been struggling with and try these three suggestions to see if you can come to accept it.

Consider what a mentor or admired friend would do in the same situation.

It’s natural to be disappointed if you don’t get the job you applied for.

However, sometimes we get so caught up in our emotions that we lose sight of the actual situation. We can be extremely harsh on ourselves in ways we would never judge a friend.

A more helpful response is to give yourself the same advice you would give to a friend. What would you say to them to assist them?

Would you pass judgment on them or accept them? If you accept them, try accepting yourself and treating yourself as your best friend.

Make a list of your thoughts.

Stress can cause us to have negative self-images. These could be things like ‘I always say the wrong thing’ or ‘I’m terrible at this.’

When you start thinking negative thoughts about yourself, it’s easy to start thinking even more negative thoughts and focusing on all the negative things.

It is critical to recognize that we are not our thoughts. Thoughts can enter your mind for a variety of reasons. Accepting that thoughts aren’t facts reduces their power to upset us.

Try writing down what’s going through your mind, especially if you’re in a difficult situation. Then read them back as if they were written by someone else.

Then read them back as if they were written by someone else. This can assist you in realizing that your thoughts are not you and accepting them for what they are: thoughts.

When you’re going through a breakup, it can feel as if your heart is breaking in two.

We’ve all thought things like “I’m not good enough” or “I’m going to end up living with my cats.” Writing down these thoughts acknowledges that they are just that: thoughts.

You can even try reframing them beforehand with ‘I just had the thought that…’ The phrase ‘I just had the thought that I’m not good enough’ is less upsetting and more accurate than the thought itself.

Discuss your feelings with others.

When faced with stress, it is normal to experience all of the emotions (grief, sadness, anger, and anxiety). You can sometimes make things worse by judging yourself for feeling these emotions.

We may believe that ‘I should be happy all the time’ or that ‘if I’m sad, something’s wrong with me.’ It comes as no surprise that this makes us feel even worse.

Talking to friends, family, or anyone else you feel comfortable with can help you feel less alone and that someone else understands what you’re going through.

It can be difficult to begin talking. You may be concerned that expressing your thoughts aloud will make them real, or that the other person will not understand.

However, once you start opening up, you realize that it’s perfectly fine to talk about whatever’s on your mind.

In fact, it may be a relief for the other person as well, as they may be experiencing similar feelings.

Knowing that other people are feeling the same way we are can help us feel like our emotions are normal, valid, and okay to feel.

When something bad happens to us that is beyond our control, we have two options.

We can fight it and suffer as a result of our inability to control it, or we can accept it and move on. Acceptance, like playing a musical instrument or participating in sports, is something worth practicing.

The more you practice, the easier it will be to find when something bad happens, and the better you will feel.

What should I do now?

Consider something in your life that could benefit from acceptance and put one of these tips to the test for us.

On the ReachOut Forums, you can hear how other young people have practiced acceptance.

Learn how to confront a negative mindset.

Talk to someone

Inform someone if you feel unsafe or if you begin to feel out of control. They can assist you in grounding yourself and talking through your feelings.

Consult your primary care physician.

Your doctor can discuss various treatment options with you, such as counseling or medication, and can help you get the assistance you require.

Find new ways to express yourself.

It can be difficult to express ourselves verbally at times. If you’re finding it difficult to express yourself verbally, try expressing yourself through art or dance.

MIND & BODY

What to Do When Life Feels Out of Control