Why Acceptance Helps You Deal With Stressful Situations

Wise Mind Living often comes down to knowing when and how to accept the situation you’re in—which isn’t always easy when you’re dealing with stressful situations.

Usually, the answer is when you can’t do anything to change the situation. As for how, read on.

Pop quiz:
You took the morning off work to wait for the cable guy and there’s only one more minute left in the two-hour window the company promised you. Your home internet access is at stake, not to mention the next episode of your favorite HBO show, so you have to get this repaired today. But you’re never going to make it to your lunch meeting if you don’t leave now.

You’re upset, your stress level is high, and you’re unable to do anything to change the situation. The best thing to do is:

a. Get really worked up. Figure out who is to blame and heap it on. Your partner who went to work instead of taking cable duty? The cable guy who’s taking too long at someone else’s house? Clench your jaw. Curse.

b. Click through your most upbeat playlist to a favorite song and throw yourself a little dance party. Or catch up on that magazine you didn’t finish in the doctor’s waiting room. Distract yourself.

c. Focus on your tardiness. Check your phone repeatedly so you know exactly how many minutes you’re going to miss lunch by. Dwell on all the ways you messed up, like not scheduling the cable guy for a non-lunch meeting day.

d. Breathe. Assess the situation – it’s bad, and you’re stuck. Acknowledge that you’ll likely miss your lunch. Admit all this feels pretty lousy.

When you’re having distressing emotions (read about the 8 emotion families here) and you can’t change the situation, Wise Mind Living means accepting the situation and the feelings that go with it. In other words, choose D. And I do mean choose. You have to make an active decision between struggling against what’s happening, or pursuing acceptance.

But as we all know, shifting your mindset to one of acceptance isn’t always easy. Here are a few simple strategies that can help you choose acceptance:

Cope.

On your way to acceptance, you can try distracting or soothing yourself to help deal with stress and get you through the tough spots without doing something unhelpful. (So actually, choosing option B above would also be a reasonable choice.)

Deciding on inaction is another good way to protect yourself while you wait for the worst to pass.

Try talking to yourself in wise ways (do not let Emotion Mind take over!), advising yourself as a good friend would. Offer validation (“This is an understandable emotion after what happened”), reassurance (“I can handle this”), and perspective (“This won’t last forever”).

Calm Your Body.

Quieting the physiological signs of distress will make it easier to practice acceptance while relieving stress. Reaching acceptance may also relieve physical symptoms. You can use any basic breathing and relaxation techniques or try my relaxation meditation here.

Catch Yourself in Nonacceptance.

Watch for examples of nonacceptance in your life – they don’t have to be anything big.

Notice anything you keep wishing were different, or that makes you think “I can’t take this” or “How could this happen?!” These are clues you’re struggling against something – or, to look at in another way, these are opportunities to practice acceptance instead.

Acceptance Meditation.

This is a way to practice acceptance on the spot.

Take a slow breath, try to relax any tension in your muscles, and check for an “open” body posture: shoulders back, chin up, spine straight. Continue to breath slowly and fully. As you inhale, say to yourself “Everything is” and as you exhale, “as it should be” or ”What it is.” Open your mind to the idea that you believe exactly what you are saying.

And remember, acceptance is a moment-to-moment proposition. You don’t just reach acceptance and move in permanently—you have to keep choosing it. (Read this post I wrote about why acceptance is one of the best stress reducers.)

Leave a comment below and tell me about your experiences practicing acceptance.

Mindfully,
Erin

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