According to the most recent APA "Stress in America" survey, more than 4 out of 10 American adults (42 percent) report that their stress levels have increased over the past 5 years. Nearly 4 out of 10 (36 percent) say stress affects their overall happiness a great deal, and about the same number (37 percent) have felt overwhelmed in the past month by stress.
But here's what's so fascinating: about half of adults (48 percent) report "being unable to control the important things in their life very or fairly often." No wonder they're stressed! Trying to control the outcome is what causes stress, not what relieves it!
The key to relieving all different types of stress lies in letting go of control. Surrendering control, not pushing, not rushing, and not trying to create a desired outcome helps us get in the flow, relax, and be flexible. When we learn how to do this, everything gets easier, from how we deal with our finances, to how we get along with our love partners.
In my book, The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life, I look at some common forms of stress we're addicted to, and how we can let them go.
1. Let go of "success stress."
In the APA survey, money (71 percent), work (69 percent), and the economy (59 percent) are the most commonly reported sources of stress. To let go of success stress, stop comparing yourself to others, and focus instead on what you're grateful for. This will help you get your mind off what you lack. If you find yourself envying someone's success, ask yourself what you admire and can learn from her. Finally, wish her well. These simple strategies will help you change the way you think of success, and will free you up to change some of your behaviors when it comes to money and work.
2. Let go of relationship stress.
Nearly half (46 percent) of adults in the survey say they lost patience or yelled at their spouse, partner, or children when stressed in the last month. You can let go of relationship stress by practicing staying calm, no matter what buttons your loved one has pushed. Avoid reacting or getting defensive. Let the other person completely finish talking, then pause before you respond. Instead of trying to change her mind, accept where she's coming from and try to be compassionate. When we stop trying to control relationships, they become less stressful.
3. Let go of physical stress.
In the APA survey, 30 percent of adults report that their stress level has a strong or very strong impact on their physical health. Stress makes us feel lousy. We become tight, tense, obsessive, and burned out by adrenaline and cortisol. Consequently, we become malnourished or overweight. We don't exercise, and the quality of our sleep suffers. One of the best ways to let go of physical stress is to let your body do what it was designed to do: move. Practice some kind of movement you like at least a few times a week, whether it's going to the gym, walking your dog, or doing yoga stretches. The goal of movement is to get out of your head and surrender to the bliss of the body's sacred energy. Let movement give you a reason to love your body.
4. Let go of time-related stress.
We are immersed in a culture of rushing. Nature offers great lessons about letting things happen at their own pace, and surrendering to the flow. When you experience worry, fear, or anxiety about an upcoming event or work deadline, look 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. If it's breezy outside, go outside and let the air rush through and around you. Imagine the wind clearing out your mind. Water is another of nature's stress busters. When you're stressed, mindfully drink a glass of water, and take a bath or shower to cleanse negativity around deadlines from your system.
5. Let go of illness-related stress.
When we're sick and don't feel well, we often become depressed and overwhelmed. If you can tune in to your intuition, it will help you get out of your state of inertia. Start by noticing your beliefs. Shift negative beliefs (I will never heal) to positive ones (I trust my body's healing powers). Listen to your body — and if a treatment or a doctor's approach feels "off," allow yourself to question it. Sleep when you need to. Stay away from people and settings that make you feel depleted instead of energized. Listen to your dreams to see what they tell you about your health.