With Thanksgiving behind us and the December holidays rapidly approaching, the stress level for many is on the increase. Why? The reasons range from unfulfilled expectations to minor annoyances or to major conflicts and upsets. As a result, people can begin to experience depression, isolation, tension and other negative emotions.

To reduce or avoid stress, consider the impact of forgiveness and how it can instantly change your mindset and your life. Dr. Stephen Marmer, a psychiatrist at UCLA, recently recorded a five minute video on this subject for Prager University. In his model, there are three types of circumstances that warrant forgiveness. One is exoneration (a wipe-the-slate-clean scenario, where the injured party recognizes there was no intention to hurt and the offending party provides a complete apology). The second is called forbearance. In this example, Dr. Marmer recognizes the apology is not without excuses or defensiveness, and the offending person might not take full responsibility for the injury inflicted. In this case Dr. Marmer says practice the watchwords, “forgive but don’t forget” and “trust but verify”. The third situation comes from victims who have experienced “unforgivable” acts such as torture, rape, incest, kidnapping, etc. While the incidents are unforgivable, it is still important for these individuals to release the feelings associated with their memories. While they may not forget, this proactive decision makes them feel like they are no longer victims and that they have more control over their lives and happiness.

So the question is, how can people practice forgiveness? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Make a conscious decision to let go of fear, resentment, and anger. Develop a mantra that you can say as a reminder, such as “I forgive. I let go.”
  2. Recognize that no one is perfect. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Practice empathy and compassion.
  4. Ask yourself what the reward is for holding on to your injury. You might find the payback isn’t worth it.
  5. Breathe, meditate, practice yoga, or write in your journal.
  6. Seek out professional help.

Whatever methods you choose to apply forgiveness, they can significantly improve your relationships. In the end, forgiveness is truly the gift that keeps on giving.