How to take back control and lead the life you want

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated January 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Life is not always as easy to manage as we would like. At times, people may feel like they have no control over their lives, which may cause them severe stress and discourage them from going after the things they want. No matter how lost you may feel in the present, however, moving forward and regaining the control you seek is possible. Have you thought to yourself, “I’ve lost control of my life”? If so, here are some tips on how to take back control and lead the life you want.

Feeling out of control can be scary

Understanding the root of your loss of control

When you think to yourself, “I’ve lost control of my life,” you may be thinking that you’ve lost control in general or that you’ve lost control over certain aspects of life that are important to you. Acknowledging this distinction is important when you’re attempting to regain a sense of control.

For example, let’s imagine that you feel as though you’ve lost control of your work life. You may lack professional goals at the moment, find yourself in a position that you do not enjoy, or struggle to keep up with your current workload. If this doesn’t describe you, perhaps you can think of another area that resembles it, such as your personal life. No matter which part of your life feels out of your control, it can be helpful to take some time to think about these questions: 

  • In which areas do you feel most lost?
  • When do you feel like you lost control?
  • Which parts of your life are most impacted?

Symptoms that come with a lost sense of control

It can be very stressful to experience a lost sense of control.

A perceived lack of control may lead you to feel more stressed, anxious, or pessimistic about your life.

To recognize these feelings, you must be aware of them, so each is described in more detail below.

Symptoms of stress may include:

  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Trouble breathing or rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Stomach issues
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety

Symptoms of anxiety may include:

  • Feeling constantly on edge
  • Feeling angry or irritable
  • Having panic attacks
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Muscle pain or other pains throughout the body
  • Trouble sleeping and fatigue
  • Issues focusing and concentrating
  • Constantly feeling worried

Symptoms of depression may include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Trouble sleeping or oversleeping
  • Eating too much or eating too little
  • Random pains throughout the body
  • Fatigue and difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Loss of joy and isolation

When you feel like your life is spiraling out of control, it’s common to experience symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, make sure to reach out for help. A trusted friend, mentor, or therapist can help you get support for your symptoms and learn how to cope with them more effectively. Once you have a stronger understanding of why you feel out of control and how it is impacting you, you may be able to cultivate change within your life. 

Tips for regaining control

Set goals

If you don’t have clear goals, this may be one key contributor to the lack of control in your life. Goals help us figure out what we want in life, serve as reminders of what we are working toward, and keep us on track, wherever that road may be taking us. Here are three tips for setting effective goals that can guide you toward the life you want:

Make a list of things you want to accomplish or achieve in your lifetime

Most of us have some idea of where we want our lives to go, or even have specific goals that we have been looking to achieve for some time. Break down your life into subcategories (i.e., personal, professional, financial, social, romantic, etc.) and figure out what you want to achieve down the road. Do you want to purchase a new car soon? Do you want to have an emergency fund set aside within a specific window of time? Do you want to try a new hobby and meet new people? No matter what your goals or desires may be, write these down as you brainstorm.

Transform those items into specific, actionable goals

When goals are unclear, it can make it easy for us to abandon them. We may feel as though we are working toward nothing as the goal is too broad. For example, let’s imagine that one of your goals is to get a space of your own. While this is an admirable goal, it may be too unclear. Instead, think about exactly what kind of space you want. You can define your goal more specifically by considering whether you’d like an apartment or house, where you want it to be located, what the price range is, and how you can work toward getting that house or apartment. The more specific and actionable your goal is, the more success you may experience while working towards it. 

Set a deadline for your goals and break them down into achievable tasks

Besides being specific, your goal should have a set deadline and should be easy to break down into steps. This allows you to slowly chip away at the goal and measure your progress as you go. Continuing with the above example, let’s say you decide you want to get a new apartment next year. From there, you can look at the cost and your budget, setting up monthly or weekly savings goals so that you are prepared to purchase your dream apartment by a specified date. When you have a clear focus, you often have more control over your life direction.

Goals allow us to work toward the things that we truly want. Without them, it can be easy to feel lost. However, goals without action can be just as troublesome. 

Make progress and stay motivated

The goals that you set should be things that you truly want out of life. This can help you stay motivated as you work toward them. If you are having trouble adjusting to goal setting and taking action, one powerful way to stay focused is to set small reminders around your work area or in your home. Additionally, you may want to have a tool that helps you track your progress as you cross off tasks and work toward your goal. For example, having a journal with a checklist of your tasks, a deadline for your goal, and short descriptions of your feelings as you work toward what you want can be beneficial. 

Accept what you can't control

You can’t control everything that happens in your life. However, acknowledging this reality can bring you far more peace than attempting to work against it. If something happens that slows down your progress, remind yourself that you are in control of your life direction, even if things happen that may make it more difficult to reach your destination. You can maintain a feeling of control by readjusting and continuing to work toward your goals despite obstacles and setbacks. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Feeling out of control can be scary

Online therapy with BetterHelp

When trying to regain a sense of control in your life, you may experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, or both. This can make it more difficult to recognize what you want, set goals, and work toward them. An online therapist may be able to help you overcome the mental health challenges you’re facing so that you can get back to focusing on what’s ahead. You can connect with a counselor through BetterHelp, an online therapy platform.  

When you’re feeling out of control, the situation can seem urgent. There may be long waiting lists for traditional, in-person therapy, and it’s possible you’ll spend lots of time driving long distances to get care. With online therapy, you can often get connected with someone quicker and more easily, allowing you to give your mental health the attention it deserves. 

The effectiveness of online therapy

It's normal to have questions about the effectiveness of online therapy. After all, it is a relatively new counseling model. Still, extensive research has been conducted regarding internet-based therapy outcomes. One recent study found that seeking help from an online therapist is more effective in alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression than self-help methods. Online therapy could be efficacious for improving the symptoms you’re experiencing as you get your life back on track.


No matter how lost you’re feeling at the moment, it is possible to begin down a new path. While there are steps you can take to help yourself gain more control over your life, it can also be helpful to get assistance from a professional. An online therapist can work with you to address what caused you to lose your sense of control in the first place. Then, they can support you as you build a stronger foundation and move forward more confidently.
Understand how different outlooks can shape life
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