Control. Isn’t that what everyone wants? I know I do, I’m definitely a bit of a control freak. Whenever something is not going the way I want it to go (which happens more often than not), I get stressed. I feel my muscles tensing, my emotions blocking, and my intestines protesting. In this article, I’ll tell you what I do to not freak out all the time.
2020, the year of the control freaks
The past year, I think, can go down in the books as the greatest control challenge ever – for all mankind. Most of us have tightened the reins more than ever before. We are dealing with so much uncertainty that our internal alarm systems are constantly in overdrive.
Of course, we do our best to protect ourselves and keep things under control. And everyone does this in their own way, which inevitably leads to discussions. People have short tempers and are easily irritated. We growl at strangers whenever they accidentally come too close.
This year, it seems to me that even a lot of friendships and relationships have been impacted by conflicting opinions about what the best actions are to protect ourselves.
That doesn’t do us much good. What all the discussions, uncertainties, and fears do lead to is a sky-high build-up of tension.
But does that tension only arise because we think the other person is so stupid that they don’t understand our point of view? That they put our – and their – health at risk by (not) following certain rules?
Or is it also because we necessarily want to be right? Because that’s the nature of us humans, at least of our egos. After all, it’s essential for our survival that people agree with us, that they accept us. If people don’t agree with us, if we are ‘rejected’, it means that we are on our own – and we have a weaker position. So we have to choose a side, a group, to belong to.
The irony, however, is that when we experience too much tension, we actually weaken our chance of survival. Chronic stress is one of the biggest threats to our health. It weakens our immune system. So, in order to really increase our chance of survival, we’d better stop bitching at each other and relax a bit.
What do I do to let go of tension and control?
In order to go through life a little bit more relaxed, and as a bonus protect my health, it’s important to learn how to let go of stress. I do this in different ways, including the following three.
Yoga & mindfulness to reduce stress
Your body has two ‘modes’: the survival mode (the sympathetic nervous system) and the chill mode (the parasympathetic nervous system). Your chill mode is essential for restoring your body and mind. It ensures that your digestion runs smoothly and that your immune system stays strong.
The problem for many people is that they’re too often in their survival mode due to stress and worries. Yoga is an excellent tool to get more into your chill mode, live more in the present moment, let go of worries, and restore the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
Besides getting my body and mind into a deep state of relaxation, yoga reminds me that in reality, I’m not in control of anything. What I do have, when I worry when things don’t go according to plan (which is almost always), is stress because I try to hold on to the illusion of control.
In yoga, it’s all about the right balance of control and letting go. You can apply this to the body: you contract some muscles to relax others. But you can also apply it to the mind. For example, I can choose to make a plan, and at the same time relax my expectations about the results of that plan.
Yoga exercise to let go of control: Child’s Pose
The beauty of yoga is that every posture has a spiritual meaning. Child’s Pose, for example, resembles a baby in the womb and symbolizes childlike innocence and surrender. The idea is that you surrender yourself to a situation or feeling. For one moment, you let go of everything.
If you need that today, I’d say: take two minutes and come lie in Child’s Pose for a bit. It’s only two minutes, but it makes a world of difference.
Come onto your yoga mat with your arms outstretched in front of you or next to your body, and your forehead on the mat. Close your eyes and observe your breathing without judging. You breathe as you breathe. Whether it’s slow or fast, it doesn’t matter. Feel your belly moving against your thighs, and relax your body more and more on every exhale. Let go of what you want to let go of. Take 10 breaths this way.
I also made a yoga video of 25 minutes. This is suitable for beginners and can be done at any time of the day.
Journaling to reduce worry
Writing is also a good way to let go. It turns out that writing down your thoughts is actually relaxing. Just as if you would share them with someone, naming your feelings (even if on paper) helps you to process experiences.
You give your thoughts space to be there, so you can let go of them. This way, your brain gets some rest and you stop your worries from circling through your head.
I usually write down everything, from crazy dreams and fears to goals and things I want to do. Years ago, I was plagued by an unpleasant thought, which in the end I just wrote down. I burned the piece of paper, after which I felt a lot freer.
Therapy and coaching
Finally, a coach or therapist helps to see the bigger picture. Sometimes, we get so carried away by our own fantasies and worrying thoughts that we can’t get out of it ourselves. A professional outsider helps you to look at things from a different perspective. You are given tools to, for example, calm down, let go of control, or better deal with stress and emotions.
What happens when I let go of control
What happens when I let go of control? I write a book! Freedom, self-acceptance, and releasing tension are some of the topics I discuss in The Joy of Good Shit. Because yes, dear reader, I have written a book (available in English: March 2021). That’s why you haven’t heard from me in a while. I’ve been sitting behind my laptop like a hermit for months (actually nothing new there) and now it’s finally here: my book is published.
Super scary! What will people think of it? Is it good enough? Am I good enough? A control freak and perfectionist, writing a book about self-acceptance and self-love, that’s no small challenge. Especially if you publish it yourself. You can imagine the contradictions…
One of the things I say is that you shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, because everyone makes mistakes. But you don’t want to know how many times I’ve combed the book through, looking for mistakes. I even have nightmares about it! Even though I worked with an editor.
Still, I put my fears aside and published the book. I have absolutely no control over what people are going to think of it, and that’s okay, I let go of the reins. Some will like it, others will like it less. I have to accept that. If I wanted everyone to love it, the book wouldn’t be here now.
Would you like to read a preview?
Fill in your email address below and you’ll get a preview of the first chapters (in Dutch). If you want to read the whole book, you can already order it online. Or you can pick it up this week at Boekhandel Scheveningen (in the Keizerstraat, The Hague). More bookstores follow soon.