Science Says These 3 Major Things Can Affect How "In Control" You Feel In Your Life

Originally Published: 

In "this thing called life," as Prince once referred to it, how much control do you really have? Sometimes it can seem like very, very little, even though I'm willing to bet you probably spend a whole lot of time trying to keep it all together. Figuring out how to feel more in control of your life can seem downright elusive and impossible, but according to the results of a new study, there are things you can do to grab the proverbial bull by the horns. And apparently, it all boils down to three main factors — don't worry, I'll get to what those are exactly in a bit.

For the study, researchers from North Carolina State University asked 205 people between 60 and 94 years old about "a wide range of psychological variables" over the span of three weeks, according to a press release from the university. The goal was to see if any of these variables affected how much control the study participants felt they had in their lives. And, as it turns out, three main variables emerged as having the most influence over that in-control feeling: “We found that sleep, mood and stress are all important factors in determining a sense of control and in whether older adults feel they can do the things they want to do,” Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of the study, which has been published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, said in a statement for the press release.

Even though these results were specific to an older population, it seems fair to say that everyone, no matter what their age, would consider sleep, mood, and stress to be pretty heavily tied to that feeling of whether or not you're truly "in control" of your life. Like, don't you feel a billion times more put-together when you actually get eight hours of sleep? Or when you make it through an entire day without a negative mood swing? I know I certainly do.

Here's a breakdown on how each of these three things can affect that "in control" feeling, and a few suggestions for how to maintain that feeling more consistently.

It Starts With A Good Night's Sleep

You know how the whole world feels a bit brighter when you've had a good night's rest, and it seems like a dry and lightless void when you haven't slept enough? Seriously, never underestimate the power of a good night's sleep, my friends. "We found that sleep efficacy, or the belief that one can get a good night’s sleep, was associated with better control beliefs," Neupert explained in the study's press release.

In other words, it's not just about how good the quality of your sleep is; it's about how confident you feel in your ability to get that sleep and maintain that well-rested feeling.

If sleep is something you struggle with on the reg, first of all, I totally get it. But the good news is, sleep troubles can often be addressed by tweaking small details in your bedtime routine. For instance, do you always scroll on your phone right before you go to sleep? Do you rely on a daily 3 p.m. caffeine fix to get you through that afternoon slump feeling? According to Healthline, addressing these types of habits can improve your ability to sleep, in addition to doing things like setting a comfortable temperature in the bedroom at night, and maintaining consistency in both your bedtime and your wake-up time (yes, even on the weekends).

But It's Also About Being In Tune With Your Mood Swings

Shenghao Zhang, a Ph.D. student at NC State and first author of the research, said in the study's press release that maintaining a positive mood seemed to help the participants "feel better about their competence and control, while being in a bad mood made people feel worse about those things."

So, ask yourself: What are those little things in life that help to balance your mood? Could it be doing something nice for yourself, walking by the dog park near your apartment, or calling a friend?

Overall, according to Joyce Marter, LCPC, a therapist and owner of the counseling practice Urban Balance, it's important to let yourself feel whatever it is you're feeling, rather than bury the emotion and disregard it. Marter told PsychCentral that it's "extremely liberating" to be attuned to your emotions in this way, so the next time you're feeling a bit moody, make sure to take time to let yourself really experience and process those emotions before you move on from the situation.

Stress Is Inevitable, But You Have More Control Than You Think

Zhang said in the study's press release that his team's results suggest that the "adverse effect of stressful events can last for more than a day," meaning it can definitely have a potential influence on how in control you feel of your life.

Stress is obviously an inevitable feeling, but that doesn't mean its effects on you have to work the same way. When you're dealing with stress in any context, licensed clinical social worker Laura Federico told Elite Daily back in September 2018, it's important to remember that it "influences not only our thoughts, but our bodies in a major way." Keeping that in mind can help to inform some of the ways you go about managing and taking control of your stress. For instance, maybe you clench your jaw really tight whenever you're feeling anxious, or you hunch your shoulders way up to your ears. Once you recognize that your body reacts to stress in this way, you can mindfully work to avoid those habits, and as a result, your more-relaxed body language might translate to less stress in your mind.

Overall, the takeaway from this study is that it's easy to feel like you're losing control of your life after a stressful day or a sleepless night, and that lack of control can then easily spiral into a cycle in which you feel like, well, you can't control anything, so why bother trying, right? "When people think they have little or no control in their lives, they may stop doing some of the everyday things that are important for self-care – because they believe those things don’t matter,” Neupert explained in the study's press release.

But the point is, once you make these small adjustments to your lifestyle — letting yourself experience your emotions as they come, keeping your bedtime consistent, etc. — you can "better retain [your] sense of control," Neupert said, "and better maintain [your] quality of life."

This article was originally published on