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Letting go of life's little stressors

Main Line Health April 10, 2017 Behavioral Health By Paula Durlofsky, PhD

Letting go is hard. We can all relate to having “one of those days” filled with unexpected disappointments and stressors, like last-minute changes to our schedule, a missed appointment, conflicts with family, friends or co-workers, or a plan that didn’t work out like we had hoped. But acknowledging the anger, frustration and sadness, caused by these minor everyday disappointments and stressors is very important and necessary for letting go.  

Holding on to negative feelings for too long can wreak havoc on our relationships and overall life. Pent-up emotions can take their toll on us emotionally and physically—it contributes to anxiety and mood disorders, obsessive- compulsive disorders and substance abuse.  A number of studies have also found a correlation between chronic stress and an increased risk in cardiac disease, high-blood pressure and some cancers.  

There’s no doubt that letting go is hard since it means accepting the reality that many events in life are beyond our control. Understanding and accepting what we cannot change verses what we can change or re-negotiate in our daily life is crucial for being able to let go of the small stuff. 

Below are five tips to help you cultivate the art of letting go of life’s daily disappointments and stressors:

  • Acknowledge your feelings: No matter how minor a disappointment or stressor may seem to you, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings. Calling a friend or relative to let off some steam can quickly reduce the intensity of anger, frustration and sadness. Small stressors that go unacknowledged and unexpressed pile up and, at some point, begin to take their toll.
  • Put the disappointment into perspective: Putting some degree of emotional distance between yourself and the circumstance can help. Ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend facing this problem?” “Would the event seem minor or moderate?” Putting things into perspective helps with gaining an understanding about whether or not your emotional reaction is helpful or necessary.
  • Be patient with yourself: Acknowledging our feelings is work and can be emotionally draining, especially if it’s something new and unfamiliar to you.  Developing self-compassion takes time and patience. It’s an adaptive and necessary skill to have in order to lead a happier and healthier life.  
  • Stick with it—it will be worth it. Find ways to quickly reduce your stress and anxiety: Find a stress reduction method that works for you. Mindfulness meditation, yoga and deep breathing have all been shown to be effective stress-reducing techniques
  • Talk with a professional: Getting easily angry and harboring resentments makes living life harder than it ought to be. It’s usually a sign that a deeper issue needs to be addressed. Exploring underlying issues and learning how to talk about feelings helps can make letting go possible—and easier.
Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples and families. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Medical Center.