By Judith Orloff, MD, Special to Everyday Health
There’s a telling detail in the latest “Stress in America” survey from the American Psychological Association. About half of the respondents (48 percent) reported being regularly stressed out because they are “unable to control the important things in their life very or fairly often.”
While many of us believe trying to control outcomes in our life will take away the stress of uncertainty, in fact, the opposite is true. Trying to control the outcome or make things happen the way you want them to is what causes stress, not what relieves it.
This simple concept is so important to health and happiness that I wrote an entire book on the subject. In The Ecstasy of Surrender, I explain all the ways we’re addicted to stress in our lives – whether it’s by overworking, overindulging, overspending, being in unhealthy relationships, or doing many other things. There’s a simple solution, and it’s learning how to let go of control.
Surrendering our need to be in control helps us relax, get in the flow, and be flexible. When we learn to surrender, everything gets easier, from how we deal with our finances, to how we heal from illness. Surrender opens us up to intuition, serendipity, and unexpected gifts. It enables us to get what we really need and want in life – but without stressing about it or trying so hard.
So let’s look at some ways to stop being addicted to stress.
Letting Go of Power-Related Stress
The problem: Being addicted to power causes undue stress in our lives. We try to control difficult people, we believe we need to do everything ourselves, or we micromanage others – such as a spouse who wants to share in vacation planning. In the workplace, we will go to any lengths to get to the top of the pecking order. We are driven and aggressive.
The solution: Practice intellectual surrender. That is, tell yourself that by letting go of knee-jerk reactions to challenging people, by stepping aside and allowing others to exercise their power, and by letting up on your relentless pursuit of goal achievement, you will be more relaxed and rested, and your relationships will be stronger. Letting go of the need for status will actually make you more influential at work and in your personal life.
Letting Go of Money Stress
The problem: Money is an enormous source of stress. We fret over whether we have enough to take care of our health, our bills, and our family. We imbue money with the power to make us happy, to buy friends or influence, and to “be somebody.”
The solution: Surrender your illusions about money. Money may spark envy, but it won’t help you be admired. The drive to make and spend more money isn’t worth the stress it creates, and will leave you exhausted. Use affirmations, such as “I surrender the illusion that money defines my self-worth.” Recognize money as a mirror. For example, do you appreciate what you have, or fear not having enough? Do you have gratitude or shame about your job? Are you charitable or greedy? See what values emerge, and focus on what you are grateful for in your life, rather than comparing yourself with others.
Letting Go of Time and Schedule Stress
The problem: We live in a culture that values goal achievement. As a result, we rush around trying to get as much accomplished as we can. The problem is, when we focus on the future – to-do lists and deadlines – we become anxious and stressed out.
The solution: It’s futile to worry about something that hasn’t happened, because we have no control over the future. Look to nature for great lessons about letting things happen at their own pace, and surrendering to the flow of life. When you experience worry, fear, or anxiety about an upcoming event or work deadline, gaze up at the sky and focus on a cloud. Watch it drift, and see what the shape reveals. This is a calming exercise that helps a rushing mind slow down and gain perspective. Also, take pride in every accomplishment, no matter how small or mundane. Success doesn’t hinge on how much you get done, but rather the clarity you bring to each task.
Letting Go of Relationship Stress
The problem: Relationship stress comes from being attracted to unavailable people – those who are emotionally shut down, self-destructive, or dishonest, for example. When we try to connect, we get frustrated. Another source of stress comes from surrounding ourselves with emotional vampires – people who drain us by being needy, angry, passive-aggressive, or egotistical.
The solution: Take a hard look at the people in your life, from your love relationships and family members to your friends and professional colleagues. Do you feel energized after seeing them, or stressed-out and depleted? Find ways to politely but firmly say no and to separate yourself from people who create more stress in your life, rather than relieve it. Surrender your need to rescue others or constantly take care of their needs.
Judith Orloff, MD, is author of a new book, The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life. An Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and a New York Times bestselling author, Dr. Orloff teaches workshops nationwide, has given a TED talk on this book, and has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Today, PBS, CNN, NPR, and many others.