Learning to let go is a difficult task for many people, but this skill can actually do wonders for mental health. As we flock outdoors this summer – and especially on the coast – we can actually learn a lot about the world around us. Looking to seashells and sand dollars in the ocean can illustrate the power of giving way to the world around you. Read on to learn more about how letting go of control can benefit mental health, from Heather Rafanello, local therapist and founder of Growing Mindset LLC.
What we can learn from sand dollars
The Jersey Shore is a beautiful place, loved by so many people for an abundance of reasons. A favorite beach activity is “shelling”, or a walk on the beach in search of sea glass and all types of little treasures that wash up on the shore. A few months ago, while walking on the beach in Florida, hundreds of sand dollars floated with the tides. The same goes for the beautiful seashells at our beloved Jersey Shore beaches. Typically, these sand dollars and shells burrow into the sand for protection, but they are often swept away by the ocean current and washed ashore, unchecked.
Read more: How toxic positivity can harm mental health, from a local therapist
This lack of control was a surprising realization. What a stressful life these little creatures must live, I thought to myself before I understood that while this complete lack of control is terrifying to many humans, it is a blissful reality for these creatures. This human stressor could actually be a blessing that many humans overlook. How nice it would be to just exist, rather than spend a lifetime fighting to regain control. Imagine how peaceful life could be if we allowed ourselves to float, ride with the ride, and just be.
If it makes you feel Zen, that’s fine, because that state is totally at your fingertips more often than you might think.
First, it is important to recognize the control function. Being in control, or feeling in control, makes people feel safe in their surroundings. It enables predictability, security and planning.
The hard truth, however, is that the less people try to predict the future, the more prepared they can be to deal with any situation that comes their way, rather than the specific situation they were predicting.
How to practice letting go of control
Here are some steps you can practice to start letting go:
- Talk about your feelings: Simply acknowledging that something is stressful, scary, or overwhelming can be enough to relieve some of the emotional pressure a person is feeling.
- Journal: If there is no one to talk to, try keeping a journal. Journaling allows people to use a different region of their brain than they use when they’re just thinking about something. Journaling can be a great way to vent and help people process and understand their triggers.
- Practicing Mindfulness: Mindfulness is simply present-centered awareness. It allows people to live in the present moment, rather than being carried away by forward-looking or past-focused thoughts. This practice allows people to recognize their emotions and redirect their attention to the present moment.
- Create a mantra or practice affirmations: it’s a phrase you can use to help ground yourself in the moment. Maybe, “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf” or “You can’t change the wind, but you can trim the sails.”
It is important to begin by understanding the purpose of wanting to be in control in order to validate these feelings. From there, you should try to be flexible and absorb some of the unnecessary thoughts by practicing more present-centered awareness. Be patient and gentle with yourself. It took time for current patterns to develop, and it will also take time to learn new habits.