Letting Go, Part 2: Tools to Help You Move Forward When Life is Stressful or Difficult

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

Coping with change is not something we are able to do easily. We are creatures of habit and routine, and when those habits and routines are disrupted – especially when the new situation comes with strong emotions of anger, sadness, and grief – we struggle to cope.

The most difficult part is that to heal and move on, we must begin the process of letting go – another thing we are not so good at. But the truth is, to create a fulfilling life, especially after tragic or stressful or difficult events, we must often release stagnant energy or situations that have built up within our energetic fields. We must release the old to invite the new.

Letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care anymore – it is just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself. YOU are in the driver’s seat.

Letting go always means saying good bye to one thing in order to say “hello” to something else. The catch here is that we often don’t want to let go of the old way, person, or situation! If you find yourself caught in this dilemma, it may feel hopeless. You might think you’ll never make it past the stage you’re in.

But you will! In your own time, and in your own way.

Whatever happened that changed the course of your everyday life, the outcome is always that you have to cope with something new. Maybe:

  • You lost a partner or a beloved one.

  • You had to divorce, your partner left with someone else, or your relationship ended.

  • You were laid off or fired.

  • You had to quit something you love for reasons beyond your control.

  • You moved to another location, either by choice or by necessity.

  • Your child moved out or your family living situation changed (you are taking care of an aging parent, housing a relative, etc.)

  • Your financial situation changed.

The real difficulty is that you have to acknowledge and deal with the pain.

How long it takes you to cope and to start new depends on how close you were to the person or situation. Your stress level might be higher with an extremely close relationship or a change in situation where you lost something you truly loved.

Death and divorce, for example, are the top two on the stress scale, a useful and simple tool to help you evaluate how much stress is happening in your life.

The Stress Scale

You may hear all different people in your life throw around the word “stress.” You may even use the word yourself to describe your day, certain situations, or how you feel a lot of the time. But what is stress?

According to Richard S. Lazarus, “stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that ‘demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.’” Basically, we feel stressed when "things are out of control."

Truthfully, we all deal with stress. What matters is the kind of stress and how we cope with it, because the amount and type of stress you have can affect you in many different ways. Exciting events like having a baby or starting a new job can cause stress, as can dealing with financial issues or a long term illness.

The problem comes when you deal with too many stressful events at once or too much stress over time.

Below is a Stress Scale. To score your stress levels, simply select Yes or No for each of the events in the Statements column that have happened to you in the last year. Then add up your “points” to get your stress scale total.

This table is taken from "The Social Readjustment Rating Scale", Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Volume 11, Issue 2, August 1967, Pages 213-218, Copyright © 1967 Published by Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce granted by the publisher.

43 Statements to Answer Yes No

9 Marital reconciliation (45)

10 Retirement (45)

11 Change in health of family member (44)

12 Pregnancy (40)

13 Sex difficulties (39)

14 Gain of new family member (39)

15 Business readjustment (39)

16 Change in financial state (38)

17 Death of close friend (37)

18 Change to a different line of work (36)

19 Change in number of arguments with spouse (35)

20 A large mortgage or loan (31)

21 Foreclosure of mortgage or loan (30)

22 Change in responsibilities at work (29)

23 Son or daughter leaving home (29)

24 Trouble with in-laws (29)

25 Outstanding personal achievement (28)

26 Spouse begins or stops work (26)

27 Begin or end school/college (26)

28 Change in living conditions (25)

29 Revision of personal habits (24)

30 Trouble with boss (23)

31 Change in work hours or conditions (20)

32 Change in residence (20)

33 Change in school/college (20)

34 Change in recreation (19)

35 Change in church activities (19)

36 Change in social activities (18)

37 A moderate loan or mortgage (17)

38 Change in sleeping habits (16)

39 Change in number of family get-togethers (15)

40 Change in eating habits (15)

41 Vacation (13)

42 Christmas (12)

43 Minor violations of the law (11)

You may have noticed there are both positive and negative situations on the stress list. Yes, even positive situations have a certain level of stress because they require you to adapt to change.

For most of us in change situations, we don’t feel ready, competent and able to deal with it from the beginning. We tend to deal with change on a learning curve.

How you cope or adapt with life situations is very personal and it depends on you, your experiences in life, your mindset, and your ability to deal with change. People who often face difficult situations become used to change and can speed the process up, but for most of us, we have to learn to deal with it and the process can feel slow.

Dealing with death, divorce, illness, and other similar situations also slows you down. Whatever situation you are in, whatever job you have, you are forced to slow down, take your time to understand, to grieve, to say good bye to the person or old way of life – and eventually, to cope.

And - just in case the scale shows you that your numbers are high at this particular moment in your life, it doesn’t mean things can’t change for the better. The way we react, act, or cope is different for each individual – it is just an indicator like any other test. Dealing with the “top” of the scale will likely take more time than someone who had a low stress scale number.

By managing stress you have to manage your energy, your body, your mind, and your emotions – this is what it is about! And in these phases or when you’re on unfamiliar turf, it’s perfectly okay to ask for professional help.

You are the one in your life who cares for yourself - taking a time out regularly should be on top of your list - time to reload, reflect and rethink. At our Kaleidoscope retreats we work on these topics – letting go, starting new, or moving on.

A Way through Difficult Life Transitions

Pain is a pathway, albeit not a fun one. The lessons we learn when we’re grieving, failing, struggling or falling are priceless. They’re concentrated doses of personal evolution. A transition is always a change process – and where there’s change, there’s growth or at least the chance to.

But it’s easy to forget: growth can only happen if we allow ourselves to show up, and lean into the pain. Running or trying to ignore the pain means you risk losing the lesson. (And often, it also means you’ll have to face that pain again at some point).

To grow through what we go through - you have to understand what is going on and you have to have a proper mindset because you cannot control what is happening to you but you can control your inner world in terms of how you react and cope.

In my last blog post, I introduced you to the “Change Curve,” a very useful tool developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to explain the 5 stages of the grieving process. I explain in that blog post how, when my first husband died in 1992, I adapted the process to include 7 phases.

And if you look around there are a lot of curves, and they all have between 5-8 phases. Mine worked best for me and a lot of my clients, too. My personal approach is to use something as long as it serves me but it’s always possible to change or adapt things to best fit you and your situation. The important thing is the outcome and whatever serves my clients - not about right or wrong.