Let it go, already: how to deal with emotional baggage
The irony of being tasked to write an article on “letting go” in the days following the United States presidential election is not lost on me. I spent the past two years doing the best one can to have an effect on their country’s general election while still living abroad. Yet, despite my best efforts – and the effort of thousands of other American citizens – the outcome was not one I agreed with. While it’s still raw, I know that there’s going to come a time in the not-so-distant future that I’m going to have to move on, or let go, of the resentment and continue moving forward.
The concept of letting go is almost always associated with this time of year. Yet one must question why we constantly associate “letting go” with the change of the calendar. Dr Tara Wyne, a clinical psychologist at the LightHouse Arabia Centre for Wellbeing in Dubai, explains this as a way for us to “take stock of how we have lived over the previous 12 months, and appraise and evaluate this”.
“To my mind and experience, however, every day is a good day to practise letting go,” she says.
While letting go can help clear our heads and focus on the more immediate tasks at hand, it’s also important to our long-term mental well-being. “Letting go is critical because it suggests that we are not stuck in a static state with pain or difficulty, and unable to free ourselves or move on,” says Wyne.
“Letting go liberates our energy and resources. When you have truly accepted and then let something go, it loses its power over you, and if that issue is ever triggered inadvertently, you won’t have the sensation of Alice falling down a rabbit hole repeatedly. You will be able to be with the issue and maintain your equilibrium. You meet that issue with equanimity.”
The notion of holding on to the anger and disappointment that I feel towards the outcome of the American presidential election, even weeks after the results, is, admittedly, exhausting, both physically and mentally. This, according to Wyne, is not uncommon. In addition to tiredness and various physical symptoms or health problems, feeling saturated and at your limit, a lowered tolerance for normal life events, and even projecting this emotion on to other people are all common side effects.
While my situation isn’t exactly commonplace – after all, the US presidential election only comes around every four years – there are several particular issues that people find difficult to let go of, says Wyne. This includes childhood and early life issues – from disappointment with how a person was parented and the sense of not being loved or wanted, to being bullied, missed employment opportunities, and not living up to the expectations people set themselves.
“But perhaps the main area where people don’t let go is where they feel they have been hurt and let down by others in relationships,” she explains. “They cannot forgive and get past what happened and, instead, live their life in the shadow of that, often taking that disappointment and pessimism into the next relationship and not giving [it] a true chance to thrive.”
So what can be done to help ourselves let go, even when it feels impossible? In the days following the election, I found limiting my time on social media helped. Before the election, I spent an inordinate amount of time on Twitter, needlessly debating and arguing with random strangers – something that added unnecessary stress to my life. The constant reminder of the results was doing nothing for my ability to move beyond the anger and frustration I felt.
Dubai-based jivamukti yoga instructor Dina Ghandour confirms that my decision to cut back on social media was the right one. “Constant connectivity makes it more difficult to let go. More specifically, being in constant contact with all types of screens, from phones to televisions, means that the nervous system takes more time to slow down from processing all that information and stimulation throughout the day,” she says.
Wyne also suggests an activity such as journaling, daily or several times a week, to help let go. She puts this down to the fact that “writing allows you to compose and construct the content inside of you, enabling processing, making sense and integrating all in one activity”, while other activities, such as drawing and painting, “act as an expressive medium, where creating the art can soothe and calm your negative emotion”. Even counselling and psychological therapy, she adds, can help an individual who feels stuck and cannot let go of the narrative or pain. “The therapist becomes the mirror and the container, and helps to transform the negative or stuck content, enabling the individual to let go and move on.”
Moreover, both Wyne and Ghandour agree that even a “few moments” a day of meditation, yoga or mindfulness practice can make a world of difference.
“Yoga and mindfulness are great ways to bring back the awareness from external stimulation – screens and social media – to being more aware of your brain and thoughts,” Ghandour explains.
“Yoga is more about slowing down your thoughts and eventually having a clear head, to make clear, rational decisions – even in times of stress. Once your mind slows down, you can spend time with yourself and your brain – all your thoughts come to the forefront and we are forced to confront our ‘demons’.”
Eventually people find that they’ll begin to notice specific thoughts they’re having and how they react to them, explains Ghandour. “You begin to think: ‘I usually react or feel or think this particular way and now that I know that, I’m going to start working towards not doing that.’”
Updated: December 14, 2016 04:00 AM