How to take back control when it feels like your anxiety is getting out of control

How do you take back control during these turbulent and uncertain times? Despite the much anticipated news of a COVID-19 vaccine, 2020 has largely consisted of one depressing headline after the other, with so many aspects of our lives changed beyond recognition.

COVID-19 has affected all of us without exception, but recently, my thoughts have been very much with young adults.

Between the ages of 16-24, you might choose to enrol on a higher education course, take the first steps on your career path, or even ‘fly the nest’ and get a place of your own. However, COVID has jeopardised so much of this.

Examples are everywhere:

The most recent unemployment rate (June-August) for the whole of the UK was 4.5%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is the number of people who are able to work and want a job, but are unable to find one. However, one of the hardest hit groups is 16-24 year olds, with an unemployment rate of 13.4% (as at 13 October 2020).

ONS data taken between 3 April and 10 May 2020 reported that young people (aged between 16-29 years old) were far more likely to admit to feeling lonely some of the time or occasionally, than those aged 60 years+ and much less likely to report never feeling lonely.

Among those aged 16-24 years old who were unable to attend their educational establishments because of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 75% felt that their future life plans will be negatively affected (Source: ONS).

There’s increased competition for graduate jobs with a 60.3% drop in the number of graduate jobs advertised on one online recruitment website in the first half of 2020.

You’re just at the start of your adult life. You should be brimming with ambition and excitement for the opportunities ahead and your future plans. Yet I bet many of you are feeling quite different. Am I right?

The predictability of knowing what comes next makes us feel safe. For example, the progression from GCSEs to A-levels, to undergraduate study and then a graduate role within an organisation. But right now, with so much change, it’s very difficult to know what’s coming next, and that’s frightening. It can leave you feeling anxious, unsteady and unsure.

Today, I’m going to talk about whether it’s possible to take back control when you’re feeling like life is out of control. I’d also like to share my free 10-Point Positivity Plan, which contains 10 focus areas for you to try. They are 10 things that are scientifically proven to make us feel better, happier and cope with anxiety-making situations.

Can you take back control?

Let’s start with this fact: nobody has full control over everything all of the time.

Are you familiar with the Serenity Prayer? It’s by American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr.


Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.


It’s really beautiful and can help people to understand that it is possible to be more comfortable with less control if we accept there will always be things that are beyond our control.

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change

If you think about it, lots of the things that occur in our daily lives that we cannot change don’t adversely affect us that much. For example, whether your bus turns up late or whether there’s an unexpected downpour. But when we’ve had the choice to do something and it’s taken away, it feels jarring. For example, suddenly not being able to go to parties, socialise with new friends during Freshers Week or even attend physical lectures.

So step one, is to accept the things we cannot change. I say it like it’s easy. But it’s actually pretty hard. Imagine you’re stood in front of a dam trying to hold the water back. Sometimes you have to step out of the way and just let the water run. What I’m saying is, you have to drop the fight. Often, what makes us feel out of control is our constant attempt to control things that are beyond our control. The fight is exhausting and stressful.

The courage to change the things I can

Step two; courage. Courage is misunderstood. It doesn’t mean not being scared. It means doing something even though you feel scared. There’s a lot of fear in the air, and when that happens, your body tells you to get ready for it. It’s evolutionary. So, you’re in a state of alert, and that makes you begin to worry about things that aren’t even threats.

What I recommend is to embrace a technique such as mindfulness, to help train your brain to come back when you call it back. When you feel out of control your thoughts will often run away with themselves, thinking about the worst possible scenario and all the things you can’t control. Mindfulness encourages our brain to return to – and focus on – the here and now. In doing this, you’ll be able to move forward and make decisions that will have a positive impact on your life.

The wisdom to know the difference

Step three is wisdom. It’s the knowledge to understand the difference between the things we can change and those we cannot. Simply put, make a list of all the things you’d like to take back control of, and identify what you can and can’t change. That’s the wisdom. Journal and make to-do lists. Make plans for the things you can change and don’t waste energy to the part of you that’s trying to change things that are beyond your control.

There’s a wonderful folktale about a grandfather telling his grandson about a fight between two different wolves. One wolf represents light, hope and positivity; the other wolf represents darkness, despair and negativity. The grandson asks his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” His grandfather replies, “Whichever one you feed.”

This metaphor shows us that we choose which thoughts we give power to. Negative thoughts will occur, but we can choose not to feed the energy that creates them, and prevent them from winning the battle and taking control over us.

If you’re feeling like life is out of control, take some time to work through the three steps above. By separating what you can and can’t control, and starting to change the things within your control, you’ll likely feel a sense of achievement. Conversely, if you strive to control the things you can’t, youre setting yourself up for failure, which will only lead you to feeling even more out of control. It’s a cycle.

Remember, you can also dip into my 10-Point Positivity Plan, a totally free resource that will help you to feel more positive during these turbulent times. Join me live on Instagram every Monday at 8pm GMT where I’ll be sharing a different strategy from the plan each week. The plan helps to maintain positivity with action ideas for each area to support your mental health, boost your confidence and share good vibes with the people around you.

Take care and stay safe.

Dr Courtney x


If you’re struggling with anxiety, and would like to find out how we at Altum Health can help you, please get in touch for a free, 20-minute consultation via Zoom.

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