The Art of Letting Go
“Let it go” is such a simple statement. It’s even an infectious song from a Disney movie, if you haven’t heard it millions of times by now. But often the simplest things are the most difficult to put into practice. How nice would it be to simply have the intention to “let it go” and our stress and worry would simply drop away? All physical tension would melt, and our obsessive and persistently swirling thoughts would just stop. Could you imagine?
In the Psychology of Stress class I took for my coaching certification, it was suggested that one of the ways to reduce stress is “to practice letting go.” Don’t you just hate it when simple logic is applied to something as complicated and painful as feeling stressed? Really, in the moment when you are late for work, you boss is breathing down your neck, you’re starting to get a cold and you still have to make 3 dozen cookies for the soccer team, if someone told you to just “let it go” you might haul off and smack them.
Could it be as simple as just “letting it go?” You might think, “I can’t let it go, I have too much to do!” Or, “if I let it go, who will take care of it?” Or even, “I don’t want to let it go!” The thing is, letting it go does not mean it won’t get done, nor does it mean you have to change what you are doing. It simply means that you are letting go of the drama that surrounds the stress. You respond to each thing that comes up then let it go when you are done. This takes lots of practice, that’s why it’s not easy.
So lets take a moment to understand stress. Simply put, stress is anything that causes our body to adapt to change. Stress hormones help us respond to our environment and perform under pressure to get things done, or in a primitive sense, help us get to safety. Common stressors include weather, poor nutrition, trauma or injuries, excessive work, excessive exercise, lack of sleep and strong emotions. Do you recognize any of these in your life? Our body mobilizes energy to respond to these stressors, and then normalizes after the stress is over. This is a normal process and happens throughout the day in varying degrees.
The problem is that for a lot of us, we can’t let go of the stress when it’s over. Our stress is more psychological in nature. We may worry or be anxious about a future event that has not even happened yet. Or instead of moving on after a stressful event, we call three friends about it, post it on Facebook and keep the story going long after its over!
Let’s use our story above as an example. You woke up late this morning because your alarm did not go off. You rush to get the kids on the bus and arrived late to work with your boss waiting for you with a large pile of work. You feel the first sniffles and sore throat of a cold coming on. You make it through the day only to go home, make dinner for the family and stay up late baking 3 dozen cookies for your kid to take to school in the morning.
As you are baking cookies you are on the phone with your best friend reliving the drama of your horrible day. “Oh my God, I had such a horrible day . . . . . tomorrow is going to be even worse . . . I hate my job, my boss is a jerk . . . I should have just bought cookies at the store . . . this cold is going to turn into bronchitis . . . “ We tend to run the scenario over and over either with someone else or in our own head. It literally gets stuck in a feedback loop.
Each time we re-live the story (and sometimes add on to it) our body is mobilizing our stress hormones as if the event is still happening! Instead of letting go of our day we continue to dramatize the story and don’t make a mindful effort to let it go in peace. This dramatizing cycle can happen day after day, week after week and month after month until it turns into prolonged chronic stress. Not to mention that it manifests in our life because of our continuous attention to it.
But how do we let go? First, we can make a conscious effort to drop the drama. Are you creating a story that you allow to replay again and again? Second, we can learn to see stress as an opportunity and realize that life’s difficulties are part of our being alive. Stuff happens. Learn to respond instead of react. Third, practice meditation, yoga, prayer or taking quiet moments on a regular basis to recharge your batteries. This turns off your stress response and gives your body and mind a much-needed break.
Finally, practice letting go! Drop the drama! This may require learning how to separate the past from the present and letting go of old patterns. Any step taken towards mindfulness and recognition of mental and physical manifestations of stress is a step in the right direction. Just let it go.