Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Sense of Control

Today I was clicking through the pages of Psychology Today when I came across this short but thought-provoking article entitled “The Importance of Feeling in Control.” It discusses our intense need for a sense of control and the impact it can have on our physical and mental health. Most interestingly, however, it discusses the way in which we find control in times of turmoil, even if none actually exists.

In reading this article I turned to think of a recent change in my life. It would be an understatement to say that my life is a little depressing at the moment. I am currently unemployed and about to have surgery that will keep me immobile for a month. That means that the relatively small pool of activities I have to occupy my time is about to be severely diminished by my inability to get around after surgery. But for the past couple of days I have taken to making lists of things to do with my time. I’m not actually doing anything that I wasn’t doing before – reading various books, watching movies, taking trips to the library and grocery store – but I have found that by making lists and checking items off as I go through the day, I am much happier with how I’m spending my time. I feel more productive and less like I’m wasting away in unemployment, even if only a little. This illusion of control seems to mirror what is discussed in this article.

In a time of great depression and emotional turmoil for me, I am finding some security in tricking myself into a sense of controlled productivity.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I am very grateful for the recent peak in my moods. Such a simple fix to a horrendous problem is surely to be praised! On the other hand, I am always suspicious of illusions, particularly of the kinds we play on ourselves. Isn’t it true that I AM being hugely unproductive at this time? Don’t I deserve to be reminded that I want to work and spend my days in a worthwhile manner? It seems like a slippery slope to me. One minute I’m happy at having watched a movie today and the next I’m content to ignore more important tasks in favor of mindless ones. As long as I get to check it off the list, right?

What are your thoughts on tricking ourselves to feel happier? Do we deserve to give ourselves a break? Or should we suffer through in the knowledge that it will bring better times once things sort themselves out? How does a sense of control play out in your mental life? Leave me a comment and share your ideas!

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