Circle of Control: Combating a Lack of Control at Work

2020 is a tumultuous year, to say the least. The traditional office environment has been turned upside down. We’ve been asked to learn new habits like social distancing and wearing a mask. It’s difficult to plan past tomorrow, and there’s much that’s out of our control. A lack of control at work or in our personal lives can bring on feelings of stress, anxiety, hopelessness, and fear. 

Uncertainty doesn’t feel good, but there are techniques you can implement to combat a lack of control inside and outside of the workplace. It’s important you learn how to recognize these feelings in yourself to maintain your physical and mental health. Below we’ve shared strategies for gaining back control, recognizing what’s not in your control, and dealing with stress at work, including ideas for how employers and managers can help.


Lack of Control at Work: What Employers Should Know

Uncertainty can get out of control, and it can quickly turn into negative attitudes, lack of motivation, and reduced productivity. The wellbeing of employees should be of paramount importance to employers and managers. Your team is your most valuable asset, and you need to invest in them.

Take the time to consider how a lack of control at work and in life can negatively impact an employee’s wellbeing and mental health. Being aware of these impacts will help you understand what your team is going through and what you can do to help.



feeling out of control

How to Recognize if You’re Feeling Out of Control

The uncertainty of 2020 has left many people feeling like they’re not in control of their own lives. Not knowing what the next week will bring, what’s in store for the economy, when you’ll be able to see your friends again, or whether you’ll be able to see Tenet in theatres is enough to spin any mind off its top.

A lack of control and autonomy in your life or your work can cause anxiety, stress, feelings of hopelessness, as well as a number of physical health concerns commonly associated with stress and depression.

You may be struggling with a lack of control if you’ve noticed:

  • A lack of enthusiasm
  • A lack of motivation
  • Irritability
  • Low energy
  • Increased fear
  • A racing mind
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Unexplained headaches, aches, or pains

Do any of these issues sound familiar? They may stem from feeling powerless at work or in your personal life. Although you can’t change the number of unknowns in your life, you can work to improve your mental health by understanding what’s in your circle of control. 



Your Circle of Control

As much as we may want to control all aspects of our lives, there are plenty of things that are completely out of our control. Recognizing what you can and can’t control helps combat stress and provides a sense of purpose. If something is in your control, you can work at maintaining, fixing, or improving that aspect of your life. If it’s out of your control, you can work hard to move past it. 

Knowing what’s in your control also improves your decisiveness—you can make decisions quickly and effectively because you’re better able to prioritize the things you can actually do something about.

This concept is called a circle of control. The things you can control are on the inside of your circle, and the things you can’t control are on the outside.


circle of control

What is Inside Your Circle of Control?

The things inside your circle of control are the aspects of your life you have influence over. You have the power to change and manage these things. Even though there may be roadblocks or it could be difficult to implement change, you're the only one behind the wheel.

Inside your circle:

  • How you spend your time
  • The words you choose
  • Your actions
  • Your decisions
  • Who you spend time with
  • What you buy
  • The food you eat
  • How you take care of yourself
  • How you handle mistakes
  • Whether you wash your hands

    outside of the circle of control

    What is Outside Your Circle of Control?

    The things outside of your circle of control are the aspects of your life that you don’t have any power over. You may be able to guide some of these choices based on the decisions you make, but overall, you’re not the one driving. You might suggest that someone wash their hands, and you might do everything you can to make it easy for people to wash their hands, but in the end, it’s not in your control.

    Outside your circle:

    • What other people do
    • How other people feel
    • The choices other people make
    • What happened in the past
    • What’s on the news
    • The weather
    • Social media comments
    • The ending of Game of Thrones



      How to Combat a Lack of Control in the Workplace

      Focus on What You Can Control

      When you are faced with conflict, stress, or a tough decision, consider what parts you actually have influence over. Start by asking yourself a simple question: Can you do something about it? If you can, begin taking steps to solve the problem. If it’s not in your control and you can’t do anything to change it, do your best to accept it and try to put your focus somewhere else. It can be tough to move on and put stressful thoughts out of our minds, but it’s a necessary step to maintaining our mental health.

      circle of control


      If you don’t like sitting in traffic on your way to work, ask yourself if that’s something you can control. Could you take a different route? Could you leave earlier or later? Could you walk, bike, or take public transit? Could you ask to work from home occasionally? If you can control it, begin taking steps to solve the problem. If there’s nothing you can do about when and how you get to work, try to forget about it. You can’t change it, so your energy is better spent on something you can control, like what you do with your time in the car. You could listen to an audiobook, a podcast, or take a language class to pass the time.

      If you are having trouble working from home with kids and other distractions, focus on what is in your control. You might not have a choice whether or not you work from home or whether or not your kids are there, but there are a lot of smaller details that are in your control. Focus on the areas you can change. Can you establish a private workspace for yourself? Can you invest in noise-canceling headphones? Can you do some of your most important work after your children go to bed? Is adoption completely off the table?


      What Employers Can Do:

      • Give your employees freedom to make decisions about how, where, and when they work.
      • Offer flexible hours to help employees work around their personal lives.
      • Offer team coaching or team building exercises on maintaining a healthy mindset, such as managing stress, decision making in times of uncertainty, the power of positivity, or how to embrace change.


        Use Meditation to Focus Your Mind

        Meditation alleviates anxiety and stress, enhances our memory, and improves our focus. Meditating regularly also helps manage heart disease and high blood pressure, depression, and sleep problems—all of which are a potential result of feeling out of control of our own lives. Meditation isn’t complicated, and it doesn’t need to take long. You can meditate at home, in your car before walking into the office, or in a designated area at work. Meditating for five minutes is all it takes to calm a racing mind and refocus your energy.




        Unchecked anxiety and negative emotions pile up, making it difficult to focus or see beyond the problems in front of us. Make meditation part of your morning routine, and consider keeping a journal about your thoughts and feelings to better process your emotions.


        What Employers Can Do:

        • Educate employees about the benefits of meditation.
        • Provide training on how to meditate and the importance of a healthy, present mind.
        • Encourage employees to take regular breaks for small meditations, intentional thinking, or deliberate breathing.
        • Provide quiet spaces in your workplace that employees can use for quick meditations or breathing exercises.


          Cut Out Negativity

          Surrounding yourself with negativity will increase your feelings of uncertainty, spiraling you further out of control. It’s important to stay up to date on current events, but that doesn’t mean you need to scroll through news feeds a few times a day.

          Doomscrolling is a real thing, and it has a serious impact on our mental health. It’s the act of continuously scrolling through news aggregates and social media only to read and immerse yourself in all of the bad news. It becomes increasingly difficult to avoid this bad habit when we feel we need to be up to date on current events and the most recent information about the pandemic. 




          There’s a lot of negativity in our lives that we simply can’t do anything about, but we can do our best to avoid and manage it. Do your best to limit your news exposure, and when you do, set restrictions for yourself so it doesn’t get out of hand. Although it may be tempting to check Twitter as soon as you have a short break, this habit can have a significant negative impact on your mental health.

          Most phones will let you set limits on apps to help you manage the time you spend immersed in negativity. Start your day off right by avoiding negative information in the morning. Don’t turn to your phone as soon as you wake up. Opt for a book instead, exercise, or meditate to awaken your mind. If you find this difficult, try keeping your phone outside of the bedroom. At work, put your phone away when you take a break. This will keep you away from negativity, which gives you time to actually rest and recharge your mind.


          What Employers Can Do:

          • Avoid potentially negative topics such as the news or the state of the world in the workplace.
          • Encourage tech-free breaks and lunches so employees can focus on taking a break instead of taking in the latest news story.



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            ABOUT THE AUTHOR

            Jordan's passion for travel led her to design a career as a remote content marketer. Nearing 1000 published articles, she's spent the past decade using her interdisciplinary education to research and write content for a wide variety of industries. Working remotely, Jordan spends half of the year exploring different corners of the world. At home, she's content exploring fictional lands—Spark an immediate and detailed conversation by mentioning Game of Thrones, Red Rising, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings.

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