Letting Go

When I do presentations I usually talk about the stress inflicted on us, such as trauma, unexpected changes in our circumstances, or even high demands that are placed on us at work. But what about stress and anxiety we cause ourselves because we messed up?

I often talk to people that have stress in their lives because of mistakes they have made, errors in judgment, or just not doing what they knew was the right thing to do. This feeling of guilt can be a powerful negative emotion that can harm our ability to be happy, effective and successful. So you need to let it go.

But hang on, aren’t we supposed to feel guilty when we do something wrong? Absolutely. There is a valid purpose for guilt. It is to let us know we violated our standards, we did something that was not consistent with our values, with who we are. We need to use that horrible feeling as an impetus to change. Guilt should be used as a course correction, not as a reason to beat yourself up for the next five years. Too often people feel guilt for so long that it changes their perception of themselves, and it turns into shame and self-hatred. That type of emotion is not helpful, and it decreases the person’s ability to deal with any type of stress.

If you can let go of that crap you’ve been hanging onto for years it will have a profound effect on your level of resilience. Research has shown that people that have a tendency to live in the past don’t do as well in disasters or facing other stressful events. It’s much healthier to live in the now. Be in the present moment.

How do you do that? One method is Mindfulness Meditation which helps you to focus on the present moment without worrying about the past or being concerned about the future. It’s very effective in reducing stress. I don’t have room to teach it here, so if you’re interested, Google it.

Another way of learning to let go is “The Sedona Method”. It’s a technique used for releasing negative emotions such as guilt or shame. There is a book by Hale Dwoskin called “The Sedona Method”, and it takes you step by step through the technique of letting go. I think the book is longer than it needed to be because it’s a fairly simple process, but I’ll recommend it anyway.

We all make mistakes. When you mess up, use the guilt as an impelling force to propel positive changes, and thenlet it go.

The Number 1 Resiliency Factor: Fitness

Sometimes people ask me “What is the most important factor for building stress immunity?” I speak about many factors so it’s hard to pick one as the most important. But if I have to pick just one, I say fitness.

Working out provides the obvious benefits to physical health such as increased stamina, endurance and physical strength, which help you get through critical events. The benefits go way beyond that.

Exercise has a direct effect on brain chemistry, releasing feel-good biochemicals like endorphins. It also regulates serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Studies show that even people suffering from depression and anxiety usually reap some benefit from a regular fitness program. Exercise also helps to flush stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline from your system. Had a bad day at work? Have a sick feeling in your stomach from all the stress hormones in your system? Go for a run! Nothing will make you feel better. At least nothing without harmful side-effects!

Exercise also helps you sleep better, lowers blood pressure and increases feelings of well-being and self-confidence. All of which help you build stress immunity.

A fitness program helps on so many levels, with body, mind and emotions. No worries – you don’t have to be a marathon runner. Start where-ever you are able, but get active and reap the rewards.

Optimism Boosts Resiliency

Optimism is a trait that increases a person’s immunity to stress. I mentioned in the previous post there was some controversy about this. I believe the main reason there is controversy is because some people define what it means to be optimistic in different ways.

Some experts quote anecdotes from prisoners of war in Vietnam and World War 2, where survivors pointed out those that believed they would be out by Christmas lost hope when they weren’t rescued, and they subsequently died. So they surmised that optimism was the problem. Other studies point to optimists not preparing for dangers because they believe that everything will be fine.

I don’t consider those people optimists. I consider them delusional. They didn’t have a grip on reality. That’s what caused the problem.

An optimist is someone who can accept the hard and brutal truths, someone who has a firm grip on reality, and yet can reframe the situation in the most positive light. As opposed to negative, cynical people that have a tendency to catastrophize. So an optimist understands the gravity of a situation and yet can still look for a silver lining.

Cynical and pessimistic people tend to look at problems as permanent and over which they have no control. Optimists tend to look at problems as temporary and they know they can affect the outcome.

The research is clear, that optimists do better in disasters. They suffer less of the negative aspects of stress.

In my 20 years of policing I have seen many optimists and pessimists under stress and facing significant obstacles. The optimists still prepare for danger. I’m not talking about Pollyanna, believing everyone loves them. They just know that despite the dark challenge they are facing, in the end they will triumph over it.

Despite the fact they are dealing with the worst society has to offer, they know that people are basically good, that challenges are temporary, and that they can have a positive influence on the outcome. The same can’t be said for the cynics who demonstrate learned helplessness. They stop trying.

Optimism is a key resiliency factor being taught to the U.S. Military in the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. It can be learned, it can be used even in demanding combat situations, and it will reduce stress injuries.

My challenge to you: The next time you are facing a difficult situation, reframe it in a more positive light, and have faith that you will emerge triumphant!