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The Art of Letting Go

How letting go of a positive or a negative can impact our lives.

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A message recently appeared in my inbox inviting me to think and write about the process of “letting go” in our lives.

While their focus was on simplifying our lives, they asked us to consider how letting go impacted our sense of wellbeing and mood or made us see things in a different way. What impact did it have? Did we feel less stressed? Was it cathartic to let go of something? Were there physical as well as emotional benefits? These are all interesting questions, so I thought I’d think about it for a bit.

To begin, it seems to me that this act of letting go could apply to many different areas of our lives. It could apply to letting go of positive things in our life, which we would then grieve as a loss, and negative things, which we may feel like a huge relief, as a burden lifted.

It could be the “letting go” of a relationship that is no longer satisfying to you and may be toxic; a habit that no longer serves you well or may even be detrimental (like smoking or eating too many cookies); or a job or volunteer experience that is creating additional stress.

It could be letting go of a dream you once had for your future and then having to accept and grieve that loss.

It could be getting rid of an old way of thinking about yourself or your world and adapting to a new way of thinking that might not come as easily: that takes work.

It could be letting go of the guilt surrounding high expectations we set for ourselves and never quite achieve, now replacing them instead with more realistic goals.

Old memories are also in this category of letting go. Fond memories are good to keep but others are not always positive or helpful to hold on to and might drag us down, so letting go of them is often recommended but hard to do.

I’m sure you can think of other examples of letting go in your life.

A person could be motivated to let go, to make a change, because of some degree of dissatisfaction in his or her life or a realization that he wants or deserves more. Letting go also comes into our lives as we adapt to a major loss as part of the grieving process.

Letting go can be scary. It’s a big unknown, with lots of uncertainty. It means leaving behind what is usual and comfortable — even if those are not always in our best interest — and branching out to what might feel odd at first. Sometimes it feels easier to stay put and not take the chance.

I can see how letting go might have an impact on our wellbeing and in turn our mood. Having wellbeing means that you have a life with purpose, meaning, and direction, based on your own beliefs and convictions, where you make use of your personal talents and potential, manage your life situations well, have positive relationships and accept yourself.

Having to let go of something positive in your life that contributes to your wellbeing — like a relationship you counted on — could negatively affect these things and your sense of wellbeing. This might happen with a divorce or if you lose your job because of illness. You then feel down, depressed, perhaps hopeless.

But the opposite is also true. Letting go of a negative in your life that causes you stress, such as a toxic relationship or an unfulfilling job, could free you up and improve your sense of wellbeing and your mood, self-esteem, and confidence. We then see ourselves and our world in a much-improved way.

I believe that yes, removing those negative areas in life that cause us stress is freeing and can be cathartic. Replacing sour relationships, situations, and thought patterns with positive ones can help us see things in a new and improved way. What once appeared dismal and hopeless in our minds, laden with stress, may now seem to have some potential. We might then regard ourselves in a different light, see opportunity and feel able to move on to other things in life.

In addition, we may find that those nagging muscle aches and tension headaches tend to disappear, sleep improves and energy is restored. We might find renewed interest in things that we used to like but had put aside for a while. All of these continue to improve after we let go of something we regard as negative, and our mood lifts. The act of letting go can work in both directions.

Stay well!

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