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How to let go

When you’re clinically depressed or anxious, the age-old phrase “let it go” can seem hurtful or demeaning, as if people are asking you to just “shrug off” your pain. But letting go, even if not easy, is one of the first steps toward navigating anxiety and depression.

For Cathy, a 34-year-old accountant who was diagnosed with depression just after college, letting go seemed an impossibility -- at first. 

Cathy grew up in an abusive home, and says that she felt as though hanging on to the hurt was not only a way of trying to understand what happened, she felt that re-living the pain actually kept her safe.

“It just felt like as long as I continued to hold onto the trauma, to go over and over what happened when I was a kid, it would prevent anyone from hurting me again,” she says. “I went through the phases of wanting to change my past and wishing that it would go away… all that stuff. But that wasn’t it. For me, I found some comfort, somehow, in replaying the story, almost as if I was convincing myself that this was what I needed to protect myself from being hurt by anyone ever again. The pain became like makeshift armor.”

But Cathy realized, as many do, that hanging on to the pain is what prevents change. Letting go of what hurts is what allows growth to happen; it’s what helps form a new identity. And yet that very result is the reason some people don’t want to let go in the first place. Many feel like the pain is part of their identity, as if there is no them without the pain.

And that’s why it’s so hard for so many to let go.

If you’re one of these people, know that there are ways you can move toward letting go. 


Be present in the moment, and let go of your expectations of the outcome.

Expectations are like quicksand; in them we get stuck, and we can even sink. When we expect, we either set ourselves up for fear, failure, or disappointment. Remember we can’t guarantee anything, especially other people’s behaviors and actions -- and if we’re expecting a certain response or result, we may not respond rationally. 

So be present and just accept what’s happening in the here and now. And know that whatever happens will happen, and that’s okay. 

Get rid of self-limiting beliefs.

Have you ever said to yourself, “I could never do that,” or “I couldn’t afford that,” or “I’m not smart enough for that.” Yikes! Such self-limiting beliefs are almost prophecies. If you’re telling yourself you can’t grow, or let go, or change, guess what? It’s likely you won’t grow, won’t let go, won’t change. Alternatively, if you tell yourself you can grow, you can let go, and you can change… you most certainly can, and will. 

Put yourself first.

Let go of the idea that what anyone thinks of you means anything! No one’s approval of you trumps your own, ever. What do you love about yourself? Repeat that over and over again. Put it on a sticky note and tape it to a mirror you look at every day. The more confident you are in yourself, the more you love yourself, the more you will let go of what you think others think of you (because no one really knows what anyone really thinks anyway!)

Know that the relationships you thought you wanted are different from the ones you actually have. In most cases, they’re better.

We just recommended loving yourself first. Next is loving people for who they are too. Not for who we expect them or want them to be, but just as they are. We can’t control others’ feelings and actions, but we can find the things about them we love and focus and concentrate on those things. The more grateful we are about the people in our lives, the more they show up. 

Accept that there are just some things you can’t change.

And that’s okay! We don’t live in a movie in which you are the sole writer. Things happen that are out of your control. Things happened in the past that can’t be rewritten. But notice that we said we don’t live in a movie in which you are the sole writer? This means you still have a hand in the writing of your story -- you can write your own character, and in so many ways, your own journey. 

Use humor.

Taking yourself too seriously is draining. Laugh alone on some days -- watch funny movies, silly Tik Tok videos, or pop on a YouTube video of people laughing. It’s contagious.

Be okay with making mistakes.

Mistakes are part of life. You might trip up during a meeting, say the wrong person’s name, show up late to work one morning. All of that is okay. It doesn’t make you bad, wrong, stupid or silly. It makes you human. 

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