Mental health / The world

Control, influence or concern—understanding these circles could transform your life!

In some ways I feel incredibly fortunate to have gone through some dark times, when I’ve been mentally ill, I’ve had access to therapy that’s taught me, not only how to manage my mental illness, but how to cope with all sorts of nasty things that are thrown at us over time! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have it all sussed, but I noticed something being passed around on social media, I’d completely forgotten I’d learnt in therapy that people might find helpful in times like these.

woman sitting in front of computer head in hands worrying

Do you find yourself worrying about other people not wearing face masks properly? Or feeling that you’re not doing a good enough job home schooling your children because everyone else appears to have it more together than you? Does it feel like you’re winding yourself up into a frenzy but there isn’t really anything you can really do about it?! This could be because you’re spending energy in the wrong place.

Everything in our lives can be separated into circles depending on how much control, or influence we have over them. Click here to see a visual representation, below is a description of why it helps to do this:

Circle of control

These are the things you have full control over; spending time and energy on these things will have the biggest benefit on your life.

Circle of influence

These are things within your influence, there’s something you can do to have some impact on the outcome but that doesn’t mean the outcome will always be in your favour. You may gain some benefit but don’t spend too much energy on these things.

Circle of concern

Most people find themselves spending time worrying most about these things but is there any point expecting energy when there’s nothing you can do to really have much influence? There’s no harm in feeling concerned that there’s a global pandemic, this is called “being human” but put the concern in the right place—you can wash your hands after you’ve been the supermarket, you can remember to wash your face masks so you have a clean one ready to go out, you can ensure you’re leaving enough space when you’re in the post office queue but you can’t do anything about the R number!

If you find yourself feeling hopeless about everything, as seems to be quite common at the moment, please be reassured that this won’t last forever. Turn your eyes to the small things you are in control of and you’ll feel more empowered. Don’t worry about the bigger picture, that can feel quite daunting.

For each worry you have, think to yourself “how much control do I have?”, if it’s something you have full control over, put it in the centre circle, if you realise you have no control over it, put it in the outside circle and let go of worrying about it. If, however, you realise that you have some influence over it, it’s ok to put it in the middle circle but keep your concern in proportion. Don’t spend too much time worrying about it if there’s not really much you can do about it.

This technique is well known to help people in the general population as well as people struggling with mental illness. However, if you feel your anxiety might be out of proportion to size of the concern, it’s impacting your sleep or it’s preventing you from going about your everyday life, it’s important to seek professional support.

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