Friday, 03 November 2017 16:20

Stress and your Locus of Control Featured

Stress and your Locus of Control

One of the major factors contributing to psychological distress in our lives is the amount of control we perceive we have over our circumstance and events that occur. Much of what happens in our lives we can’t control: from the traffic on the road through to the loss of a loved one, life is full of uncertainty and unpredictability. There are, of course, many things well within our control such as the lifestyle we pursue and how we treat those around us. 

The one constant means of control that is available to us all, no matter how terrible our circumstance, is the way we choose to react to a situation. A book by Viktor Frankl, Mans’ Search For Meaning, is a classic case study in coping with a horrendous situation where he details his experience in surviving, both physically and psychologically, the Nazi death camps in World War Two. Here he chose to react to the horror about him not by surrendering to it or even worse contributing to it, but rather by trying to find meaning in suffering. Although few of us have the resilience of Viktor Frankl, he does demonstrate that we are free to choose our reaction to our circumstance and bear responsibility for that choice. It is well worth a read (and available in most bookshops) and surprisingly inspiring despite the subject matter.

The need for control is a survival skill we have evolved through our evolutionary history. The more our primitive ancestors could control in their environment the more likely they were to survive. However, in modern society most of our basic needs are taken care of and not a threat to our survival but still the desire to control all aspects of our lives is deeply embedded in our psyche.

Whether or not this desire for control causes us stress depends where this need is centred. The psychological concept of the locus of control is helpful to understand this. Our locus of control may be more internal, where we believe our own efforts determine what happens in our lives. Or, the locus of control maybe external to ourselves where we feel that our lives are at the mercy of outside events, forces or the actions of other people.

Research has shown that those with a strong internal locus of control, who choose and take responsibility for the way they react to stresses and circumstance, are more likely to achieve better health and happiness than those with an external locus.

Ultimately when we find ourselves subject to life stresses we can either choose to change the situation or accept what we cannot alter and move on. Those with a strong external locus of control tend to get stuck when buffeted by the many unpredictable events of life. They are unable to make a choice and this feeling of a lack of control leads to stress and a sense of helplessness.

There are many excellent online resources on how to manage stress and mood issues. A good starting point is this very comprehensive website:

Like everything worthwhile in life, adopting habits to enhance your internal locus of control is difficult and will need commitment and effort over many years. If it all sounds impossible then the first step is to ask for assistance and as General Practitioners we stand ready to help.

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