If you’re anything like me, you probably know from first-hand experience just how debilitating living with stress can be. In all likelihood, you’ve read a million books and blog posts on the topic and you’re still feeling lost and confused and wondering how to let go of stress. I feel you! Stress dominated my body, mind, and soul for more than a decade, which is far too long! But everything changed when I simply decided enough was enough, and I learned how to relax. Want to learn how to let go of stress too? Then, this one’s for you 🙂
What triggered my stress?
A myriad of things could trigger stress for me. For example, an unexpected group meeting instead of the planned 1:1 time with a friend or having to meet a tight deadline (or the dissatisfaction of having no deadline at all!). My stress was more complex too – I’d sometimes, unknowingly, carry expectations of other people (including myself) and when these expectations weren’t met I might do or say things I didn’t like or agree with for the sake of fitting in. These kinds of expectations of others and of myself had the power to leave me extremely dissatisfied and buzzing with anxiety.
My stress was limitless
This anxiety really knew no bounds too – the tiniest of things, such as being a few minutes late for an appointment would stress me out just as much as the possibility of missing an international flight. It was as if my mind simply couldn’t distinguish small-scale stress triggers from larger ones. As a result, I was experiencing high stress regularly.
It can be tough to identify your triggers, but the journey to understanding what they are form an essential part of discovering how to let go of stress.
Tapping into and breaking the mental health taboo
In the past, I have felt so ashamed of my struggles with stress and anxiety and I’ve hidden these parts of me because I felt weird and uncomfortable. But, over time, I realized that I’ll never be able to help myself, or others, by hiding. So, I decided to open up about my battles and share my story with others. Because if I want to contribute to the movement of normalizing mental health issues then, I too, need to break the taboo.
Dealing with being type A
My type A personality traits haven’t necessarily been the sole cause of my mental health struggles, but they absolutely have contributed to my stress. As a type A, I am deeply fond of structure and patterns, of having a schedule and doing things that make sense. I need to see reason instead of making decisions based on a “gut feeling”. I like to have control over all aspects of my life, and I mean everything; I plan out my food on my fork. If it doesn’t fit correctly, I’ll put the food back on my plate and start again. Becoming aware of habits like these, and challenging them, is one of the crucial factors in learning how to let go of stress.
1. How conditioning caused me to identify with being type A
How did I develop these type A habits? Well, you may be surprised to learn that somewhere, deep inside, I am actually truly chaotic! And I believe this is where these traits were born; because they showed me that being well-organized and highly effective was the best way to excel. I was living in a state of, if you will, “chaos-in-denial”. However, it turns out that rejecting my inner chaos has caused me the most stress of all! Go figure. But that’s a topic for another time. For the sake of this article let’s stick with the classic type A point-of-view and dive a little deeper into how this is contributing to my anxiety.
2. Typical type A moments that cause stress
As you can imagine, eating with my hands isn’t something I’m very fond of, nor is needing to use the restroom in a place I don’t know (who knows what you’ll find there, right?). And loud people, loud places, or someone invading my personal space will also instantly have me back in my shell. These are just some examples, and I know they might seem to some like minor issues, but in my case (and for many others), these are important, noteworthy stress triggers. Identifying them and accepting them, no matter how embarrassing or weird they might seem, is an important first step in learning how to let go of stress.
Dealing with my OCD
OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, means feeling an extreme urge to act in a certain way. Not just extreme, but to such an extent that you’re unable to accept it being done in any manner other than the one you deem appropriate. When I was younger, this meant my pillows needed to be arranged in a specific order, and I would check the light-switch at least twenty times. Later on, in the office, my pencils needed to be lined-up (always), and I had a specific method of laying out my to-do list. Whenever I f*cked up the layout, I would throw away the list and start again!
How my OCD causes non-existent problems
First of all, just living my life costs me a lot of time. That sounds dramatic, but it’s true for so many of us – we spend so much time overthinking and worrying, and all this does is steal from our peace of mind. Of course, I’ve spoken to therapists, I write about my problems and, over time, I’ve become more and more aware. I am a constant work in progress, and to this day I can still catch myself reacting with OCD sometimes. The most disturbing aspect of my OCD? My subconsciously created expectations of myself, others and how events should unfold. But life is full of surprises, isn’t it? Unexpected things happen all the time and this, of course, only serves to expand on my stress.
Tools for letting go of stress
1. A sacred space: my main stress reliever
Whenever I feel overwhelmed, restless or severely stressed, I look to some of the oldest and most effective forms of stress relief we know: nature. It is my sacred space and quiet zone. I find or create still, peaceful surroundings for myself; the sounds of the earth ground me and propel me into the present, they lift my mood, and let me feel alive. When you learn how to let go of stress you learn how to stop worrying about the past or the future, and to just be in the moment: the here and now. I’d encourage you to find your sacred space, too. And to allow yourself plenty of time to wallow here and soak up all of its goodness. Yes, even if other people find this weird.
2. How to let go of stress: try calming techniques
If an escape into nature isn’t quite cutting the mustard for you, then I’ve adopted a variety of other relaxation techniques to calm my mind that you might want to try too. I flow through my Ashtanga sequence, practice pranayama or sing a soothing mantra. If that doesn’t help, I lay down on my bed, hips elevated, with my head below my heart for at least eleven minutes. I’ll close my eyes or, if my mind is really running wild, I’ll read a book and try to calm down this way. More on the benefits of putting your head below your heart in this Yoga International article.
Taking a different perspective
1. Put things into perspective, but do so mindfully
I often felt frustrated and misunderstood when I’d share my worries with others and they would respond with phrases like ‘well, it can’t be that bad’, ‘aren’t you overreacting a bit?’, or ‘I’m sure you’ll come to your senses about this’. Which only ever left me feeling ashamed of my feelings and wanting to bottle them down even deeper. I want to encourage you never to ignore your feelings, but a little bit of perspective can help you manage your stress. To me, “putting things into perspective” has nothing to do with rejecting what you feel; it has everything to do with allowing your feelings to come out and acknowledging and spending time with them. Then, when you’re ready, taking a step back and looking at the situation in a different way.
2. Questions to help you gain a different perspective and fix your stress
Dr. Travis Bradberry, who holds a dual PhD in clinical and industrial-organizational psychology, is co-author of the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and, more importantly, has defined two simple questions for us to ask ourselves in stressful situations. The sheer simplicity of this mindfulness exercise has wowed me every time I’ve used it to quiet my mind. Whenever you feel stressed, ask yourself these two questions:
- What’s the worst thing that could happen as a result of this?
- Will this matter in five years?
3. Fix your stress like a pro
Pro tip: at the peak of your stress answering these questions might just result in a heavy rant because, in that moment, your emotions are extremely heightened. You might find that, of course, this situation impacts your life (and society!) in five years, and bad things absolutely will happen because of it! If you’re stuck in this mindset allow yourself the rant: let those feelings flow and write everything down. Make sure to set a timer (five to ten minutes will do). When the timer goes off, take a deep breath, and put down your pen. Afterward, symbolically throw away your paper full of worries. Then, after a small time-out, give yourself another ten minutes, pick up your pen again and make space for a more measured response.
Learning to trust your gut
1. Experimenting with trusting my gut feeling
As someone who has been nervous and hesitant to “trust my gut” in the past, acting on gut feelings has resulted in some downright scary situations. Leaning into my intuition actually took some practice; it took time to learn to trust in my own inherent wisdom, so I could become better at letting my gut guide me. The better I became, the more I started to appreciate the spontaneity of acting on intuition over reason. To this day I find myself, time and again, shocked to realize how much I already know when I take a moment to dig deep and trust myself. Learning to go with my gut feeling was another big contributor to understanding how to let go of stress.
2. Applying the “gut-feeling” method
If you too tend to rely on reason over intuition, then I want to encourage you to take a few steps down the path I have walked. Leave room to act on your gut feelings, even if it feels awkward or downright wrong. Sure, you’ll make some mistakes, wrongly estimate, or simply feel supremely uncomfortable being so far out of your comfort zone. But you’re learning a new and very powerful skill – be patient and give yourself time and space to create opportunities for intuitive decisions. Over time you just might find, as I did, that beautiful things will happen that propel you into the present moment. And you’ll soon understand exactly why everyone tells you to “trust your gut.”
3. Going with your gut and shaping a slower, stress-free life
Building the confidence to act on intuition takes time. But, the more in-the-moment-experiences you’re be able to take in, the more you’ll see the sense in the gut-feeling methodology. Besides triggering spontaneity, impulsiveness, and your much-loved (though likely lost) inner wild child, an intuitive life also helps you to slow down. And the skill of living the slow life is, undoubtedly, the best lesson in learning how to let go of stress. More on the benefits of slowing down in this Psychology Today article by Susan Biali Haas M.D.
4. Ask yourself: how badly stressed out are you?
As well as resorting to your sacred space, trying out calming techniques, putting things into perspective and exploring intuitive decision-making, another great way to learn how to let go of stress is journaling.
Journalling for stress
1. How journaling can guide you on your journey to stressing less
Journaling helps you keep track of stress patterns, store your thoughts and can provide insights into the wacky ways of your mind. If you’re intentional about unraveling your stress patterns and you like to be guided, journaling prompts can help you out. A journaling prompt is a simple question, shaped to inspire you to unleash your thoughts on a specific subject.
2. Journaling prompts for learning how to let go of stress
These journaling prompts can provide some insights into your stress patterns, triggers, and how to create your own stress survival kit:
- What are the fears that trigger my stress?
- What do I need to feel safe and relaxed?
- Which worrisome words do I use that trigger my stressors?
- With which soothing words can I replace those instead?
- What would I see if I approach the situation from a different perspective?
- How can those insights help me to stress less?
- In which environment do I feel most calm?
- What kind of music, books, movies, or activities quiet my mind?
- If I could compose a stress less survival kit, what would it consist of?
Final checklist: how to let go of stress
- Observe, analyze and reflect to discover your triggers.
- Beat the stigma by being open about your challenges. Speak with friends, talk to a therapist, or do both.
- Gain insight into the ways of your mind: exchange thoughts in safe surroundings, read mindful books, or listen to podcasts. Stay curious in your explorations.
- Discover your main source (or sources) of stress relief and allow yourself a good amount of time to make use of that when the stress hits you especially hard.
- Try calming techniques to soothe your mind: yoga asana, meditation, pranayama, or loving mantras can calm your nerves and quiet your mind.
- Learn how to let go of stress by putting things into perspective, but make sure to do so in a mindful manner; allowing your feelings to flow and acknowledging your stress first. You are entitled to feel how you feel.
- Experiment with acting on gut feelings and living slowly and more intuitively.
- Keeping a journal can help you keep track of your stress patterns, store all your thoughts and show you the ways of your wondering mind.
- Journaling prompts can guide you on your journey to stressing less.
- How to let go of stress in seven words: awareness, perspective, sacred space, calming techniques, reflection.
Want to learn more on how to let go of stress?
Even if you’re too stressed out for a true deep dive into anxiety management, see if you can spare two minutes to watch this insightful video from Yale School of Medicine. Central to the message is how sex and gender influence how we experience stress, and what we can learn from each other. Another interesting read is Why Do Some People Experience More Stress Than Others by Welldoing.org, where they zoom in on goal-setting, circumstance, personality and childhood experiences.
Discover more calming techniques for letting go of stress
If you’re having a bad day and feeling overwhelmed, hop on over to the post Feeling down: a complete guide to dealing with an off-day. Here, you’ll find a full list of tips and tricks to help you calm down, from massage tools to yoga flows and applying Hygge to your home.
Did you enjoy reading this post?
I sure hope you did J If you have any questions, recommendations, or experiences you want to share, I’d be more than happy to read your thoughts! Please, also feel encouraged to share your own personal insights on how to let go of stress. You can leave your comment in the field below. Do you know someone who could benefit from this read on how to let go of stress? Then go ahead and share this post (via the URL bar or any of the social share buttons) and get the positive energy flowing!