How to Relieve Stress by Letting Go

By Kathleen Doheny. Medically reviewed by Tom Iarocci, MD. May 7th 2016

Feeling stressed out? Welcome to the club of tense muscles, pounding temples and racing hearts. One of every five American adults rates their stress as an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale, according to an American Psychological Association survey.

Everyone knows stress has damaging effects. Besides affecting your mood and sometimes even appearance, it can increase your chances of heart disease and other serious health problems. To cope, most experts give the same advice you have already heard before: eat better, get more sleep, exercise and try to calm down.

Now, here's an alternate idea: let go and surrender, says Judith Orloff, MD, a psychiatrist at UCLA and author of "The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life."

Letting Go

Whether your stress springs from your career, relationships, deadlines or illness, you can learn to let go to find relief, Orloff says. Here's how.

Career stress: Your co-worker always gets better assignments and better reviews. It eats at you.

To surrender, stop comparing yourself to your colleague. Let that stress go. Look at the individual with fresh eyes. Ask yourself what you admire about your co-worker and what you might learn from him or her. Borrow those strategies, and focus on creating your own success.

Relationship stress: You try not to argue with your partner, but you do. Lately, you're blowing up often, and you can feel your fuse becoming shorter.

To surrender, give up control over having the last word. To lengthen that fuse and calm your stress hormones down, develop the three minute meditation habit.

Twice a day, find a quiet place to sit, close your eyes, rest your palm above your heart and whisk away unwelcome thoughts. Notice how and what you feel. Enlisting the heart, according to Orloff, summons ''the right kind of power.''

Deadline stress: Whether you're tense and stressed about finishing a work deadline or finding time to organize a family party, try the cloud strategy.

Walk outside and find a fluffy cloud to look at. "Clouds are very calming," says Orloff. "Focus on your negative thoughts floating by.”

Clouds float and take different forms. Notice what the cloud does, and after a few minutes of watching the cloud, you could be ready to tackle that project or party plan.

Illness stress: Whether your health problem is a nagging cold or a more serious ailment, your first inclination may be to talk about how stressed it's making you feel. That's natural, says Orloff. If you are feeling lousy from being sick or from fear of getting ill, ''you want to share that with people.''

Telling one or two people may be fine, but if you repeat the story too much, it becomes a tape that runs over and over in your mind — potentially leading to increased stress. So, tell who you must and then, give up the old script of "I feel so sick." The new one goes like this: "I am looking forward to feeling better."

Constantly Stressed?

Surrendering, or letting go, is the key when coping with chronic stress. Orloff explains that by doing so, you reduce your stress hormones of adrenaline and cortisol, and you help your body be as well as it possibly can be. The series of actions is a natural form of stress relief.

"People typically think surrendering won't work," Orloff says. "They think it's a sign of weakness or failure." In reality, it's an active approach to coping with stress. But you have to know when to let go and  give up control, as well as what's involved in the surrender process.

Here's just one example of how to surrender: "Let's say you are exhausted from back-to-back appointments for work," Orloff says. The natural inclination is to keep pushing, which will probably add on to the stress.

"You want to surrender to rest," she explains. After your energy is restored, you'll feel better — and likely have a more productive day.

Next Steps

Tapping into your intuition can also reduce stress naturally, says Orloff.

If you notice you feel stressed or achy around certain people, take it as a sign they may be ''energy vampires." On this list, according to Orloff, are the gossips, the anger addicts, the narcissists and the ''Debbie Downers.'' How to let it go and avoid that stress? Avoid conversation with them.

For Caregivers

If a loved one is stressed out, you can help.

"Take that person through the 3-minute meditation," recommends Orloff. Ask them to focus on something positive and beautiful."

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