We all deal with stress on a daily basis—whether it’s the stress of being overwhelmed with work, dealing with personal crises, traffic, difficult relationships, poor health, or strained finances. Stress can be a big part of our lives.
And stress has some strong effects: it makes us less happy, less effective, less open-hearted in our relationships, it exhausts us, wears out our bodies, and can even create mental health issues.
So let’s look at how to let go of stress, whenever we notice it.
What You’re Struggling With
Why do we get stressed out, or feel anxious and overwhelmed?
Often it is because we want the world to be calm and comfortable—and it isn’t cooperating. Things are out of control, complicated, and rarely go as we imagined.
But this is the way of the world. Stress comes, not because the world is messy and chaotic, but because we desire it to be different than it is.
We have ideals for how other people should be, how we should be, how everything around us should be. These ideals aren’t a problem—the problem is that we are attached to them. We can’t let them go and accept what comes. Our attachment causes us stress.
The good news is that we can let go of our attachment, and the world doesn’t need to change one iota. We can let go, and in doing so, we let go of our stress.
How to Let Go of the Stress
Let’s say you’re experiencing a moment of stress right now.
Something—or someone—isn’t going the way you’d like. Or maybe you’re worried about something coming up.
The first practice is to drop into your body and notice how the stress feels physically. Be present with the feeling. It’s not a problem to have stress in your body, it’s just a physical feeling. You can observe the physical sensation, just be with it. This can be your whole practice, and it only has to take a few moments.
The second practice is to notice the ideal, or your narrative about the situation. What’s causing the stress in your body? What expectation did you have that hasn’t been met? You have some ideal about how the world should be, how the other person should be, how you should be. Notice that right now. Notice what you’re saying to yourself about it: “They shouldn’t act like that. I don’t like this. I’m such a screwup and not worthy of love.”
Is this a familiar narrative? Notice your expectation of this ideal and the narrative around it are causing you anxiety, fear, and stress. They are not serving you.
Also, notice that they are completely fabricated by your mind. You created this ideal and this narrative. Now they are harming you. That’s nothing to beat yourself up about—just recognize it. The good news is that if you created it, you can let it go.
The third practice is to let go and just be. What would it be like to be in this moment without the ideal and the narrative? You’d be at peace. You’d be present in this moment. You’d be free to accept reality and deal with it on your best terms. Maybe you would be able to let go of that thing that is coming between you and a loved one and discover something deeper and truer.
Ask yourself what it would be like to not have the ideal and narrative. See if you can feel what it would be like, just for a moment. Relax, open your mind beyond your self-concern, and just be.
This is a state of openness that you can drop into in any moment. Notice how amazing it is to be alive right now, what a gift it is to have sight, hearing, taste, a body. What a privilege, what a joy!
You don’t have to be grateful and joyous in every moment, but this freedom of dropping the ideal and the narrative, and being at peace, is always available. Even in moments of chaos, you can be free, and even appreciate the beauty of the chaos.
Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with more than 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net