Take Control to Reduce Stress

One of the best ways to reduce stress is to gain control of various areas of your life. Of course, you can’t control everything, but there are probably many things you can take control of, rather than letting others dictate what you must do. Why is control so important to being able to reduce stress?

In a classic study, scientists put two rats in a cage, each of them locked in a running wheel. The first rat could exercise whenever he liked. The second was yoked to the first and forced to run when his counterpart did.

Exercise usually does reduce stress and encourage neuron growth, and indeed, the first rat’s brain bloomed with new cells. The second rat, however, lost brain cells. He was doing something that should have been good for his brain, but he lacked one crucial factor: control. He could not determine his own “workout” schedule, so he didn’t perceive it as exercise. Instead, he experienced it as a literal rat race.

This experiment highlights what psychologists have known for years—that one of the biggest factors in how we process stressful events is how much control we have over our lives. As a rule, if we feel we’re in control, we cope. If we don’t, we collapse.

This exact point was made as it pertains to self-talk, victimhood thinking, and “choice-response thinking” on pages 14 – 17 in the Discipline Without Stress book.