Learning how to let go of control is a challenging thing for many people — yet this skill can actually work wonders for mental health. While we flock outside this summer — and particularly down the shore — we can actually learn a lot from the world around us. Turning to sea shells 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 be beneficial for mental health, from local therapist and founder of Growing Mindset LLC, Heather Rafanello.
What We Can Learn From Sand Dollars
The Jersey Shore is a beautiful place, loved by so many for an abundance of reasons. A personal favorite beach activity is “shelling,” or talking a walk down the beach looking for sea glass and all types of little treasures that wash up to shore. A few months ago, while walking down the beach in Florida, there were hundreds of sand dollars floating in and out with the tides. The same goes for the beautiful shells at our beloved Jersey Shore beaches. Typically, these sand dollars and shells burrow into the sand for protection, but they are often swept up by the current of the ocean and brought to shore — totally lacking control.
This lack of control was a startling realization. What a stressful life these little creatures must live, I thought to myself before it dawned on me that, while this total lack of control is terrifying to many humans, it’s a blissful reality for these creatures. This human stressor might actually be a blessing that many humans overlook. How blissful would it be to simply exist, rather than spending a lifetime fighting to regain control. Imagine how peaceful life could be if we allowed ourselves to just float, roll with the ride, and just be.
If this has you feeling zen, that’s good, because this state is totally within reach more often than one may realize.
First, it’s important to acknowledge the function of control. Being in control, or feeling in control, allows people to feel safe in their environment. It allows for predictability, security, and planning.
The hard truth, though, is that the less people try to predict the future, the more prepared they can be to handle any situation that arises, rather than the specific situation that they were predicting.
How to Practice Letting Go of Control
Here are a few steps that you can practice to start letting go of control:
- Talk about your feelings: Simply acknowledging that something is stressful, scary, or overwhelming can be enough to relieve some of the emotional pressure someone is feeling.
- Journal: If there’s no one to talk to, try journaling. Journaling allows people to use a different region of their brain than they do when simply thinking about something. Journaling can be a great way to blow off some steam and to help people process and understand their triggers.
- Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is simply present-focused awareness. This allows people to live in the current moment, rather than being swept up by future-oriented or past-focused thoughts. This practice allows people to acknowledge their emotions and redirect their attention to the moment at hand.
- Create a mantra, or practice affirmations: This is a phrase that you can use to help ground you in the moment. Perhaps, “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf,” or, “You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust the sails.”
It’s important to start by understanding the purpose of wanting to be in control in order to validate those feelings. From there, you should try to be flexible and reel in some of the unhelpful thoughts by practicing more present-focused awareness. Be patient and gentle with yourself. It took time for current patterns to develop, and it will take time to learn new habits, too.