Four effective steps to let go of stress, guilt, worry and overwhelm.
A huge reason people have a hard time letting go of stress and chaos is because we worry about everything, especially things we can’t control.
“Will my colleagues think that I am not committed because traffic made me late?”
“Will my friends think that I don’t care about them because I can’t go to their gathering because of prior commitments?”
“What happens if I am on vacation and an issue comes up at work that I am not there to resolve?”
“Will my guests think that I am lazy or not a good cook if I buy a pre-made food or order take-out?”
Parents in particular have a hard time letting go of what-if, fear-based thinking, such as:
“If I don’t show up to the class event, will the teacher think I’m a bad parent? Will my kid think I don’t love them?”
“What happens when I’m on maternity leave, if I miss an important project and get passed up for a promotion because I didn’t contribute?”
“What if I drive through Taco Bell for dinner tonight instead of making a fresh meal, will my kids get heart disease and be unhealthy?”
And on the more serious side, as is the case for one of my colleagues right now:
“How will I get through my child’s surgery? How will she get through it? What if it IS cancer?”
How to let go of stress
What works for me in moments where I find myself spiraling into stressful thoughts such as these are:
Step One: Pause.
In this pause, I clear my mind and visualize releasing the things I can’t control. I release the need to control the unfamiliar.
I say, “I am okay. I will be okay. No matter what.”
Sometimes just this exercise alone will change my mindset to peace.
If the issue is that I have way too many obligations and I don’t know where to start to fulfill them, I have to dig a little deeper to step two.
Step Two: Brain dump.
I write down everything that is in my mind that’s causing me to feel overwhelmed at the moment. I write it furiously, with cursing, acronyms, symbols, exclamation marks. The sole intention is to get it out of my brain.
If I’m still feeling overwhelmed, can’t let go of stress, and am unsure what to do next, I go to step three.
Step Three: Figure out what to put back in my brain.
I have a blank canvas now, so what do I actually focus on? In order to let go of stress and figure this out, I look at my list through the lens of this all-important question:
What is in service of my biggest core value(s) in life at this moment?
Core values can change over time, and knowing them right off the bat makes this process go a lot faster. If you don’t know what they are, ask yourself questions like:
What is my biggest priority in life right now? Is it to spend time with my family because we’ve all been going in different directions lately? Is my priority to study toward my degree? Pay off debt? Or is my priority more like my colleague, to be available to her child for emotional support and making surgery arrangements?
I separate my emotions as much as I can as you evaluate my brain dump. I know you want to be the one picking up your kids from preschool, but if your core value is paying off debt, you may need to compromise by working for that hour each day. (And they will be okay!)
Now for the good part. Once I decide what to keep and what to let go of (at least for now):
Step Four: Relinquish the rest.
For real. Let. It. Go. My friends, the wheels of the bus of life don’t stop turning. The wheels won’t fall off if you can’t get to every single thing.
When you have to suddenly take leave to care for a sick family member – that project you’re leaving will get done by someone else. Or it won’t get done. Either way, it’s okay.
Someone else will volunteer to bring cupcakes to the bake sale if you don’t. And if no-one does, that’s okay, too.
If you’re not able to go out with your old friends because you are starting a business or moved to a new town (like me), they will miss you, but it’s really okay!
This concept also applies to that famous mom-guilt or employee-guilt if we make a (real or perceived) mistake. For example, many women create a birth plan while pregnant with the best intentions, and then they go into labor and it all can fly out the window.
Own your calm in the knowledge that you did your best at the time, with the knowledge and resources you had, and relinquish the guilt. It doesn’t serve anyone and doesn’t belong in your heart!
Why relinquishing helps you own your calm
Chaos is felt when we’re fearful, when we’re out of control, or when we’re faced with the unknown. It can range from, “I don’t know how to be in ten places at once” stress to “does my child have cancer.” Your brain in chaos feels fuzzy and uncertain.
When you pause and brain dump, you gain clarity (aka calm). When you make decisions on what to keep in your brain – the things that serve your core value(s), you’ll feel the calm confidence of conviction.
You might think, “If I don’t do it, no-one will, it won’t get done!” But here’s the truth. Work survived without you before you arrived, and they’ll survive if you need to take a leave. If handmade thank you cards for birthday presents don’t go out, it’s really okay!
No matter what you’re facing in your personal life, take peace in knowing the wheels of life will keep turning. Even if you have to take a break or choose not to do some of the things on your list, the earth will keep spinning (especially if we can help preserve it!), and humans will keep humaning.
You aren’t ten people, no-one is, and you can stop living like you need to be. Choose mindfully the tasks and responsibilities you can take on, and let go of the rest.
This way you can be present and do the best, most whole-hearted experience in the moments you are choosing from your core values.
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Reach out, I’m here for you.