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Are You a Control Freak? 8 Ways to Loosen the Reins and Relax

Do you get anxious whenever you're not the boss of something? If you answered yes, do your stress levels a favor, and find out how you can finally let go of the wheel.

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As a control freak, you must find a small task, any task, to delegate. It will not be easy, and you will be tempted to take over control, but practicing delegation will help prove to yourself that yes, someone else CAN do this task, and you should trust them enough to let them. Put someone else in charge of a minuscule task first, even emptying the dishwasher or making photocopies; then work your way up to bigger ones. These are the signs you’re a perfectionist (and it’s ruining your life).

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Try something new

Control freaks are often afraid of failure, and that fear keeps them from having valuable learning experiences. While free spirits tend to act without thinking, the control freak goes to the other extreme and avoids taking small risks. Try a new food. Listen to a different kind of music. Wear a different style that you’ve never tried. If you’re hesitant, ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen?”

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Challenge your perceptions

Your need to control may come from fear of catastrophe: If you sleep in and are late for work, you’ll be fired. If you don’t mail the package yourself, it won’t arrive and disaster will occur. So stop for a moment and ask yourself honestly, “What will happen if I miss my alarm one time?” Will you lose your job, or will your supervisor merely ask you to be more careful? Or more likely, if you’ve never been late, no one will even notice. By taking an extra moment to challenge your own exaggerated thinking—a phenomenon in psychology called “catastrophizing”—you can resolve a number of perceived concerns and feel less tense about getting everything exactly right all the time. Using these calming phrases might help in the moment.

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Go deep

According to clinical psychologist Marjorie Schuman, PhD, it’s essential to explore the motivations behind your need for control. “When you catch yourself in the act of being controlling, what are you reacting to? What is at stake?” she says. Perhaps you lost control somewhere in your life and it made you feel helpless, and you’re eager to avoid that feeling again; perhaps you feel weak or meek inside and are desperate to prove (even to yourself) that you’re actually strong; maybe you’re worried that if you’re less than perfect, you’ll be rejected or even abandoned; or perhaps you just crave the rewards that come with being recognized for your achievements. For some people, being controlling stems from a desire to feel superior—and there may be motivations to unpack there as well. Having a need for control is, in and of itself, an agitated state, Dr. Schuman says, and taking the time to discover what’s behind the need will help you begin to conquer it.

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Give yourself a pep talk

This may sound cheesy, but take a moment to remind yourself of your own worth. When you first begin to work on your control-freak tendencies, even as you make the conscious decisions to act differently, you will still experience the emotions you’ve long associated with a lack of control. Be gentle with yourself. This is a big step, and you should be proud. Erin L. Olivo, PhD, is assistant professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, told Dr. Oz that it’s a good idea to remind yourself, “I can handle this. Letting go is hard but it’s going to help me feel less stressed.”

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Admit you’re not always right

While most of them loathe to admit it, control freaks are wrong sometimes. At first this may seem difficult, but eventually, it will be freeing to admit that you do not bear more responsibility than others. It’s actually very liberating to not always be in charge, if you can gracefully accept when others step up to the plate. Allowing other people to do things their way can also open up new possibilities. As one reformed perfectionist notes on TinyBuddha, “Purposefully seeking out an approach that I wouldn’t normally think of can lead to adventures and discoveries and playful enjoyment.”

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Yoga, meditation, brisk walks, or even a daily relaxing cup of tea can help you let go for a few moments at a time of your worries. All of these are proven to reduce stress, which often drives the need to control. A need for control experienced by a control freak is often a form of addiction, according to Dr. Schuman. To start, try out some of these easy yoga poses.

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Put yourself in someone else’s shoes

To overcome control issues, it’s important to consider how your controlling tendencies impact the other people in your life. If you never host people at your home, for example, because you can’t keep it clean enough to meet your standards, consider that they will probably think you don’t want to spend time with them. On the flipside, if you insist on hosting because no one else can throw a party that’s up to snuff, people may suspect that you don’t want to spend time in their home. If you always feel the need to correct people, will they be grateful for your knowledge, or will they grow annoyed? Truly considering the perspectives of your loved ones can show you why being controlling is alienating and even insulting—and ultimately help you pull back from this hurtful habit. (These habits can improve your empathy skills.)