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Whoever came up with the saying “don’t sweat the small stuff” meant well. But ironically, this “simple” advice isn’t actually so easy to do. Still, finding out how to let the “little things” slide is in your best interest for your mental, emotional, and physical health. Of course, the “little things” are subjective. If you find that your stress levels feel unmanageable, or they are causing you to struggle with anxiety or depression, you may want to seek professional help.
Small annoyances come at you every day, all day long. And although they may be “little”, like any stress, they activate our fight-or-flight response, triggering the release of hormones like cortisol. “If activated frequently, you end up with high levels of these hormones in your system, which can cause damage to your health in the long run,” says licensed clinical psychologist Elena Welsh, PhD.
If you’re ready to let these things go, you first need to identify what’s causing you so much grief. Consider taking time to reflect on the past week, suggests licensed mental health counselor Trish Glynn Carey, LMHC, CRC. “Think about all the stressors you encountered and how you reacted to them,” she says. When did you find your heart racing, muscles tensing, and jaw clenching? Then try to figure out what was really bothering you: Keep in mind what else was going on that may have had you on edge—were you too tired, too hungry, or upset about a phone call from your mom? Or was it really just the traffic that triggered your outburst?
Once you’ve identified your little stressors, try these tips to stop letting them get to you.
Determine what you can control. “There are many aspects of life over which you have no influence,” says psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD. “You can’t make your spouse change, you can’t stop a storm from occurring, and you can’t make other people feel as you want them to. All you have control over is your effort and attitude at times. You’ll be considerably more productive if you focus your efforts on the things you can control.”
Bless and release. This practice involves “taking a moment to notice and acknowledge something that is bothering you and [then] intentionally deciding to let that thing go,” Welsh explains. It helps because if you skip the first step, resentment can snowball and cause you to act out in negative ways, she says.
On the other hand, if you acknowledge that you have a choice about how much time and energy you spend on a specific issue, it can help you use your valuable resources more efficiently, she adds. That includes not wasting those resources on things that don’t really matter.
Aim to become more mindful. Practicing mindfulness helps bring you into the present moment. “It helps us hit the pause button and encourages us to become aware of what we are thinking and feeling in the here and now,” Carey says. “This disrupts the stressful thoughts and sensations which may otherwise overwhelm us, and allows us to consciously examine the situation and gain control rather than simply reacting unconsciously.” If you need help with your mindfulness (it doesn’t come naturally to most of us!), try Fitbit Premium’s mindfulness tools.
Set a worry timer. Choose between one and three minutes, Welsh suggests. “During that time, focus all your energy on the issue via writing your thoughts down or just thinking about the issue. Once the time is up, try to let it go,” she says. If, however, the stressor keeps popping up in your mind, set a “worry date” for later in the day and repeat this activity, she recommends. Either way, this limits the amount of time and mental energy you spend on the issue.
Take action. First take a moment to acknowledge that you’re annoyed, angry, or disappointed by what’s happening and notice what’s happening in your body, Carey says. Then acknowledge that, while your emotions are normal, they’re not helpful. Instead, ask yourself, “Is there any way to solve this?”
“This can switch you from a state of passive reaction to a state of positive action,” she explains. Or if you cannot solve it, redirect your energy to something that serves you better than stressing does.
Scan yourself. Fitbit allows you to do an electrodermal activity (EDA) scan, which helps you see how much stress you’re experiencing. Over time, this can help you notice the early signs of stress in your body and, in turn, respond accordingly to nip that stress in the bud, Welsh says.
Write it out. With or without a timer, journal all your grievances and annoyances. Once you’re done, delete the document or tear up the paper, Carey says. “If you know nobody—including yourself—will ever read it, it can help you be brutally honest and really process your emotions instead of keeping them bottled up,” she says.
You can also jot down any little stressor on a small piece of paper when it pops up, then fold it up and toss it into a worry jar or box, Welsh suggests. When you do so, “envision giving the issue over to the jar or box to hold for you” and let it go.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
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