It’s not only Elsa from Frozen that’s been telling us to do it, so is recent research. If you’ve described yourself as ‘stressed’ lately, then you’re certainly not alone. Whether it’s real life events or just replaying stressful moments over in our mind, stress can create all sorts of havoc on our health. But recent research suggests that it’s not the stressors themselves that are the problem, but rather, that we’re not letting them go.
We use the word stressed to describe a feeling we get from a wide variety of experiences in our daily life. From the relatively smaller but valid stressors like looking after little kids, unexpected bills and feeling overworked through to the larger life stressful events like redundancy or illness.
Whatever ones definition of stress, it encompasses a feeling of excessive demands placed on us, which exceed the resources we have for dealing with it. We may feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and anxious or at times, out of control as a result of what we are facing.
In regards to our health, it’s well known that stress and anxiety underpins many illnesses. From making us more susceptible to colds through to contributing to cardiovascular problems, chronic stress is up there as a big causal factor in disease.
When most people think of the types of stressors that can impact health they often think of the major life-halting events, such as the death of a loved one or divorce. But, recent research explains it’s not necessarily the big stressors that are having the most impact. Rather, it’s the cumulative effect of even smaller stressors that can harm our long-term health, particularly when we hold on to them too long.
Researchers found that those who were unable to let go of negative emotions caused by smaller, daily stressors, allowing them to carry on into the next day, tended to experience more health issues, including chronic illnesses and functional limitations, later in life.
The good news here is that health outcomes don't just reflect how people react to daily stressors, or the number of stressors they are exposed to. But rather how they interpret the stressors and how negative they feel the next day that has important consequences for physical health.
This demonstrates even more evidence that rather than working on avoiding stress per se (which is often quite impossible unless you live alone on a desert island, which surely would be a stress in itself?), that you should be working on how you interpret the stress.
By working on your interpretation of stressful moments and then learning how to let them go, is not only going to make you more resilient to the inevitable stress you will continue to encounter during your daily life, but also make you physically healthier in the long run.
If we’re not living a dress rehearsal for things we fear in the future, and not re-living stress of the past, then we’re perfectly capable of dealing with stress when it is imposed upon us in the present. That’s what we are wired to do.
Holding on to stressful thoughts, constantly thinking about them, constantly talking them and not doing anything about them makes you more stressed.
So what can we do to let it go and make sure we don’t let our stress linger longer than it needs to?
Letting go means allowing the feeling of stress, anger or sadness to come and experiencing it. Letting go then means looking realistically at whatever the situation is, and getting a bit of perspective.
Letting go also means taking personal responsibility for what one is going to do to protect or take care of oneself, and then doing it. It might mean problem solving it, it might mean accepting it or it might mean getting appropriate support for it.
So next time stress is upon you, letting go of it is something that needs to be seriously considered. You might find that once you can let them go, that you’ll find that they didn’t really bother you anyway.