Taking Charge

Taking Charge: Gaining Control of a Situation

In the unpredictable journey of life, there are moments when circumstances spiral out of our control, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Whether it’s a challenging work environment, a turbulent relationship, or an unexpected crisis, regaining control is essential for maintaining mental well-being and navigating through difficulties effectively. 

Today, at the Mental Fitness Corner, we are going to explore insights and techniques to empower you in taking charge and reclaim control in various aspects of your life. I will be using a hypothetical example about “Sarah” to demonstrate.


Recognise What You Can Control: The first step in gaining control is to identify what aspects of the situation are within your sphere of influence. While it’s natural to fixate on external factors beyond our control, such as other people’s actions or unforeseen events, focusing on what you can influence empowers you to take meaningful action. Reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, as these are areas where you have the greatest agency. Revisiting earlier articles on thoughts, feelings and behaviour may be helpful.

Imagine that Sarah is struggling with anxiety stemming from her demanding job. She feels overwhelmed by looming deadlines and office politics, convinced that she has no control over her workload or the behaviour of her colleagues. The first step for Sarah is to learn to distinguish between factors within her control and those beyond it. In this instance, while she can’t control her coworkers’ actions, she can manage her own responses and boundaries at work.

Cultivate Mindfulness: Mindfulness, the practice of being present and attentive to the moment without judgment, is a powerful tool for gaining control. By grounding yourself in the present, you can break free from rumination about the past or worries about the future. Engage in mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing, body scans, meditation, connect with nature to cultivate inner calm and clarity amidst chaos.

Sarah can begin to cultivate mindfulness practices into her daily routine, setting aside a few minutes each morning for meditation and deep breathing exercises. By grounding herself in the present moment, she can find relief from racing thoughts and worries about the future. This newfound sense of calm can help her to approach work challenges with clarity and composure, rather than being swept away by anxiety.

Set Boundaries: Establishing clear boundaries is essential for maintaining control over your time, energy, and relationships. Learn to assertively communicate your needs and limits to others, saying “no” when necessary to protect your well-being. Boundaries serve as protective barriers, preventing others from infringing upon your autonomy and ensuring that you prioritise self-care.

Sarah can then start to engage in assertive communication and actions, politely declining additional tasks when her plate is already full and advocate for her needs during team meetings. Though this change may initially be met with resistance from some coworkers, Sarah’s consistent boundary-setting will ultimately help her earn her respect and create a healthier work dynamic.

Develop and Tap into Existing Problem-Solving Skills: Effective problem-solving is a cornerstone of regaining control in challenging situations. Break down the problem into manageable steps, brainstorm potential solutions, and weigh the pros and cons of each option. Consider seeking input from trusted friends, family members, or professionals to gain different perspectives. By approaching problems systematically, you can navigate obstacles with confidence and competence.

When faced with a particularly daunting project at work, Sarah can apply problem-solving techniques. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the task’s complexity, she can break it down into manageable steps, prioritising action items, and seeking input from colleagues with relevant expertise. By approaching the problem methodically, Sarah is able to tackle it with confidence and achieve a successful outcome.

Practice Self-Compassion: Gaining control of a situation often involves confronting setbacks and failures along the way. During times of difficulty, practice self-compassion by treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance. Acknowledge your strengths and limitations, reframing setbacks as opportunities for growth rather than indicators of personal inadequacy. Cultivating self-compassion fosters resilience and empowers you to persevere in the face of adversity.

Throughout her journey, Sarah will probably encounter setbacks and moments of self-doubt. Rather than berating herself for perceived failures, Sarah can treat herself with kindness and understanding, acknowledging that perfection is unrealistic and that mistakes are an inevitable part of growth. She can learn to celebrate small victories along the way.

Focus on What Matters Most: In moments of chaos, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by competing demands and distractions. To regain control, clarify your priorities and focus your attention on what matters most to you. Align your actions with your values and long-term goals, making intentional choices that reflect your authentic self. By staying true to your core principles, you can navigate uncertainty with clarity and purpose.

By clarifying her priorities and values, Sarah can gain clarity on what truly matters to her in both her personal and professional life. She can then align her actions with her long-term goals, making deliberate choices that honour her authentic self. This sense of purpose can enable her to navigate work challenges with resilience and integrity, knowing that she is staying true to herself amidst external pressures.

Seek Support: Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out for support when needed. Whether it’s confiding in a trusted friend, seeking guidance from a mentor, or consulting with a professional therapist, asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Surround yourself with a supportive network of individuals who uplift and empower you, providing encouragement and assistance as you navigate through challenging times.

Throughout her journey of reclaiming control, Sarah can tap into her support network of friends, family, and trusted colleagues. She can confide in a mentor from a previous job who may be able to offer valuable advice and perspective, as well as a close friend who may provide emotional support and encouragement, and so on. Additionally, Sarah may decide to seek out professional support to help her find solace and guidance as she navigates through various challenges.

Takeaway Message

I invite you to identify a situation in your life where you feel or felt you were overwhelmed and try to work through it as “Sarah” does.

Gaining control of a situation is a multifaceted process that requires self-awareness, resilience, and proactive strategies. By recognising what you can control, cultivating mindfulness, setting boundaries, developing problem-solving skills, practicing self-compassion, focusing on priorities, and seeking support, you can empower yourself to navigate through life’s challenges with confidence and grace. Remember, you have the inner strength and resources to overcome adversity and emerge stronger on the other side.

Stay tuned for our next article where we will explore how to navigate the path forward and move beyond adversity!

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Important: If you find yourself struggling to navigate your emotions or are experiencing significant distress, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. They can provide guidance and help you develop personalised strategies to manage your emotions effectively.

Dr Rosanna Francis is a clinical psychologist who believes in the inner strength of the individual, and the value of tapping into these strengths and learning new skills to help one live a more comfortable, fulfilling life. She has over 20 years experience working across a diverse range of psychological issues, including anxiety, depression, complex trauma, relationships, stress, self-confidence, and emotion regulation; and, a special interest (research & clinical) in working with people with high intellectual ability who struggle with anxiety.