Take control: Why having a sense of control is necessary for us as we age

Take control: Why having a sense of control is necessary for us as we age

Life can seem challenging at any point, but its the worst in midlife. Heres how you can find your way through the confusion and lack of control over your life.

We all come across times where we don't know what is going to happen in immediate future. In such times, when we feel that we have no say or effect on the outcome of our present, how often do you recall suffering or being anxious or confused, while wondering when did you lose control. 

Having control over one's reality contributes to their mental health (Pexels)
Having control over one's reality contributes to their mental health (Pexels)

Having a sense of control is quite integral to one's well-being, at almost any given age. However, come midlife, the sense of control in many individuals tends to drop.

Control over one's life tends to drop in mid-life (Pexels)
Control over one's life tends to drop in mid-life (Pexels)

A study conducted by Robinson and Lachman from Brandeis University reveals how having a sense of control leads to better cognition and mental health; and how the deficit of the same can cause anxiety and stress.

How often are you able to get what you desire? (Pexels)
How often are you able to get what you desire? (Pexels)

 

The above-mentioned researchers call this sense of control as 'Perceived Control' - referring to one's perception of their ability to produce the desired outcome; influence their environments, and the ability to avoid unwanted circumstances.

Is it limited to work environments (Pexels)
Is it limited to work environments (Pexels)

For example, if an employee thinks that he/she is going to be demoted or fired although they have been working hard, and they may not get a fresh job soon is indicative of a lower perceived control (or sense of control), when compared to a person who thinks that they are going to get promoted since they have been working very hard, which speaks of higher perceived control. 

Lower perceived control can lead to higher stress (Pexels)
Lower perceived control can lead to higher stress (Pexels)

According to studies, levels of perceived control are related to one's cognitive functions such as remembering crucial events, plan and calculate for future, and their goal-directed behavior. However, a lower perceived control leads to lower cognitive performance, stress, anxiety; this causality is cyclic in nature. 

Physical activity can hold the key to linking perceived control and health (Pexels)
Physical activity can hold the key to linking perceived control and health (Pexels)

Moreover, people with higher perceived control tend to have less depression and anxiety, more wisdom and better health and higher functioning. However, individuals who tend to struggle with their economic and social positions are likely to have less perceived control over their lives and things that happen to them, who then subsequently might incur problems in health and cognition. 

Higher stress levels can limit our perception of newer solutions (Pexels)
Higher stress levels can limit our perception of newer solutions (Pexels)

Taking the earlier mentioned example further, the person who believes that they might get fired soon, and can do little to control it will most likely report having problems remembering crucial things and have higher stress levels.

Lack of control leads to stress (Pexels)
Lack of control leads to stress (Pexels)

This can invariably go on to affect their performance on multiple fronts such as motivation and focus and openness to new ideas. Ultimately building up to greater chances of being questioned or being fired. 

A lower sense of control can lead one to develop other problems (Pexels) 
A lower sense of control can lead one to develop other problems (Pexels) 

What Robinson and Lachman arrived at was that altering the perceived control could bring about a change in the cognitive performance of individuals, and physical activity could be the key to bridging the gap. 

They had used the data taken from the Midlife in United States Study (MIDUS). MIDUS was conducted in three waves (1995-1996; 2004-2005; and 2013-2014), and gathered data from several thousand Americans on numerous psychological and behavioral health-related factors.

Confusion and lack of control are not permanent (Pixabay)
Confusion and lack of control are not permanent (Pixabay)

Robinson and Lachman found that throughout the span of 20 years, people who had a higher sense of perceived control and had regular physical activity were significantly less likely to suffer from problems in cognition and worklife. Moreover, they also did not have issues with their episodic memory (ability to remember important events) 20 years later. 

The feeling of going nowhere is often more common than we think (Pexels)
The feeling of going nowhere is often more common than we think (Pexels)

Life continues to throw challenges and things can seem pretty bleak when we find ourselves lacking control. Anxiety, feelings of loneliness, dread, confusion are prominent issues we can face when our perceived control fades a bit during our midlife battles. 

Suggested ways to deal with lack of control 

1. Work out 

Work it out (Pexels)
Work it out (Pexels)

Physical exercise can be instrumental in increasing individuals' cognition. As the authors of the above-mentioned study also highlight: people who feel they have greater control over their lives are more likely to exercise - and this tendency could be the possible link between perceived control and cognition. 

2. Note it down

Keep a stress journal (Pexels) 
Keep a stress journal (Pexels) 

One of the ways to reaffirm our sense of control could be writing things down. Having tangible representation of our thoughts can help in supporting our bid to know where we are going and what we need to do. Simplest of exercies could be to maintin a calendar or a planner you can write on with a pen. This also helps in managing time. 

3. Talk to a friend 

Discuss it with your friends (Pexels)
Discuss it with your friends (Pexels)

Connect with someone close to you, someone who you know will not judge you. Sharing is a great way to release stress and burst anxiety. When we find someone listening to us, it helps in purging the feelings of loneliness. And a familiar face giving us alternatives can be a welcome change as opposed to doing things alone. 

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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