Stressed out man at desk job

According to the most recent APA “Stress in America” survey, Americans are addicted to ever-increasing levels of stress (here’s the link). More than 4 out of 10 adults (42 percent) say their stress levels have increased over the past five years. Almost 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.

Interestingly, about half of adults surveyed (48 percent) report “being unable to control the important things in their life very or fairly often.” It’s no wonder they’re so stressed! Trying to control the outcome is what causes stress, not relieves it!

As I write in The Ecstasy of Surrender, we get relief from stress by letting go of control. Surrendering our need to be in control helps us relax, get in the flow and be flexible. When we learn to surrender, everything gets easier, from how we deal with our finances, to how we get along with our love partners.

Here are five types of addictive stress and how to let go of them.

Time-related stress

We live is a culture of rushing. Look to nature for 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, gaze 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, go outside and 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.

Success stress

In the APA survey, money (71 percent), work (69 percent), and the economy (59 percent) are the areas that stress people out the most. 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 them. Finally, wish them well. These simple strategies will help you change the way you think of success and will free you up to change some of your behaviours around money and work.

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. Let go of physical stress by doing what your body 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. The goal of movement is to get out of your head and surrender to the bliss of the body’s sacred energy.

Relationship stress

Nearly half (46 percent) of adults in the APA survey say they lost patience or yelled at their spouse, partner, or children in the last month. 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 their mind, accept where they’re coming from and try to be compassionate. When we stop trying to control relationships, they become less stressful.

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.


Judith Orloff MD is author of The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life (April 1, 2014), upon which this article is based. An Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and New York Times bestselling author, Dr. Orloff teaches workshops nationwide, has given a TED talk on this book, and has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Today, PBS, CNN, NPR, and many others. More information is at www.drjudithorloff.com.
image: William Brawley via Compfight cc