Let It Go

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Have you ever shared your frustrations or recounted a stressful day with a friend, and they say something like, “You need to let it go.”? Most of us would admit that this is not what we want to hear. Instead, we want to wallow in it, re-live it, and have someone tell us that we are right to be upset. Yet, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that we really do need to “let it go”. And, this may be much better advice than you think.

Everyday stressors have a significant impact on our long-term health and well-being. For example, on days when individuals experience a heightened stress level, they report more physical health complaints and a lower level of well-being, compared to stress-free days (Charles & Almeida, 2006; Charles, Piazza, Mogle, Sliwinski, & Almeida, 2013).  While researchers have a lot of data on the short-term impacts of stress, little is known about the long-term implications of these everyday stressors.

Leger, Charles, and Almeida (2018) conducted an extensive study of 2,022 midlife individuals over a 10-year period, to determine if daily stressors have an impact on long-term health. This study found that on average, people don’t “let it go”. They continue to hold on to negative emotions, not just on the day they occur, but on following days as well. Moreover, the consequences of this behavior are great. This quantitative study found that individuals who hold on to negative emotions on the days following the event have a higher incidence of chronic physical illness 10 years later.  These chronic physical health issues include severe conditions such as autoimmune diseases, cancer, cardiovascular conditions, digestive conditions, and the list goes on. The researchers concluded that it is not just how we react immediately to these daily stressors, but how we recover also matters. It seems that persistent activation of stress-related systems in our bodies leave us vulnerable to disease. 

How do these short-term stressors impact us in the future? When we experience a constant level of daily stress, we worry more, exercise less, have unhealthy eating habits, and have disrupted sleep. All of these are known contributors to deterioration of an individual’s health.

So, how can we combat everyday stressors? A daily, mindfulness practice, of course. Yes, one of the most well-researched benefits of a mindfulness practice is stress reduction. Your mindfulness practice can help you develop a different reaction to everyday stressful events.  You can develop the capacity to truly “let go” of these emotions and put distance between you and your feelings. You can learn how to recognize when you are ruminating and worrying, and develop ways to bring your attention back to the present.

Hopefully, this study will give you that little extra push to either start or re-energize your practice. How about doing a little check-in right now to see if there is anything you need to “let go”?  It may be the best thing you can do to improve the quality of your life today…and tomorrow.

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Charles, S. T., & Almeida, D. M. (2006). Daily reports of symptoms and negative affect: Not all symptoms are the same. Psychology and Health, 21, 1–17.

Charles, S. T., Piazza, J. R., Mogle, J., Sliwinski, M. J., & Almeida, D. M. (2013). The wear and tear of daily stressors on mental health. Psychological Science, 24, 733–741.

Leger, Kate A., Charles, Susan, & Almeida, David (2018). Let It Go: Lingering Negative Affect in Response to Daily Stressors Is Associated with Physical Health Years Later. Psychological Science, 29(8), 1283-1290.