Growing up there was a framed needlepoint of the serenity prayer which hung at the end of our hallway. My mother had placed it there for my brother and me to see and be reminded.
If you’re not familiar, it goes, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”
Little did I know that this simple prayer would be the crux of the work that I do with my clients.
You see, pain is unavoidable in life; suffering isn’t. By accepting the pain, we actually decrease the amount of suffering we experience.
It’s only natural that we try to fight things or push them away when they’re painful, yet it’s not effective. This internal struggle against reality actually works against us most of the time. When we try to fight reality and say “it’s not fair”, “I hate this”, “why did this happen?”, we can stay stuck. Even suppressing painful emotions is an example of not accepting reality. This internal struggle often results in increased stress, anxiety, depression, and so forth.
Again, having these non-accepting thoughts is perfectly natural, and your feelings are valid. I hope you are able to cut yourself some slack during difficulties, and when you are ready, recognize that you likely have choices.
Accepting things that we cannot control actually frees up our mind to cope and then work on changing things that we can for the future. Acceptance is the necessary shift towards lasting and genuine change and/or healing. If you choose to grapple with reality, you are robbing yourself of the possibility of feeling and living better.
Some Clarification: Acceptance has nothing to do with approval or forgiveness. Also, accepting something doesn’t mean that you are just cool with whatever or being passive……..You are just accepting reality for what it is and making the best of it, which is quite assertive!
During this current time, you likely feel anxious, fearful, sad, etc, AND THAT’S OKAY, but just maybe there is some space for acceptance to ease the burden of what you are facing……to handle things the best you can.
HOW DO YOU DO THIS, YOU ASK? When you catch yourself fighting reality, just simply notice and bring yourself back to acceptance. The mind may jump right back to fighting reality……Once again, bring it back over and over as much as you can.
Perhaps you are only able to accept something for 30 seconds in the beginning, but then maybe you are able to do it for three minutes, then 3 hours. Just keep practicing and be patient with yourself. Like anything new, it will take time.
For more in depth information and guided practice exercises on how to effectively apply this and other skills in your life, check out my online course, Overcome Stress and Anxiety, by clicking here. https://amanda-mccall-professional-counselor-lpc.teachable.com/p/overcome-stress-and-anxiety
In the midst of a pandemic, worry has enveloped us all at one moment or another. I imagine that if you ever characterized yourself as a worrier, you are really struggling right now.
"Don't worry", they say. "It's going to be over eventually", they say. But does that stop you? HARDLY!
Here's a suggestion backed up by scientific research: If you are going to worry, pencil it in. I mean it! Have a time in mind that you will set aside to worry each day- perhaps 5-20 minutes (max), and take that time to worry your little heart out. This way, it is more contained and is not permeating throughout your day. Planning is a little different from worry but similar in that you don't want planning to be taking over too much of your mind space either.
The more you allow worry to sneak in here and there, the more you will find yourself losing days or weeks when you could have been finding pockets of enjoyment, engaging with family or friends (albeit from a distance) or delving into a project that you've been putting off.
Did you know that your thoughts trigger chemicals to be released? The more you allow worry to creep in, the closer your brain/body chemistry becomes to being more anxious or maybe even depressed.
How does one just turn off the worry, you ask? Well, this part is not entirely simple. Here are just a couple coping skills to start.
1. Mental Noting
When you find yourself taken up by worry, take a moment to mentally note to yourself without judgement what's going on. There are two components to this: 1.) Stating the facts, for example, that your mind is jumping to worst case scenarios, or that you are worrying about your financial future. 2.) Note what emotions this brings up for you- fear, sadness, confusion, frustration, etc.
Mental noting actually links the left and right sides of the brain (emotional and rational), and it puts a little more distance between you and your thoughts, helping you to be more objective. It is similar to talking to a friend or journaling, which also usually makes us feel better!
2. Grounding into the Present
As humans, what tools do we have to be in the present? None other than our five senses- Taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound. Our senses ground us to the present moment instead of being in our head, so to speak.
When you ground into your senses, your brain is able to switch from the fear based response to a more present and grounded response. So even if you are only able to do this for a few seconds here and there in the beginning, it is going to help lower the stress response and keep it from escalating as far as it would have otherwise.
No matter what you are doing, you can apply grounding into your senses.
Here are some examples.......
-When you are washing your hands- tuning into the temperature, sounds, and sensations of the water as it rushes over your hands. An added bonus would be to take at least one conscious breath as you are doing this.
-When you are walking, tuning into your breath and what you see, hear, feel, etc.
-This one is a very useful example on multiple levels........When you are having a conversation, try to notice, what do I SEE on this person’s face. What are their facial expressions, what do I SEE in their body language. What do you HEAR them saying…….Not your interpretation of what they are saying, but what they are actually saying. So just using these two senses so far is getting out of your head and into the present moment. The person you are talking to will have no idea that you are doing this by the way….....They are likely to think…..wow! They are really listening to me....….I like this!
In addition, what you will find is that you will automatically have more in tune and authentic responses to them, because you are really listening and not being distracted by your own "stuff" or your judgements about this particular person.
Every time you notice the worry and bring your mind back to the present, think of it as a little victory, even if you have to do this over and over at first.
***It's important to recognize that we can’t control what pops into our mind, but as you can see, we can learn to have more control over what happens next.
These coping skills are part of an approach called Mindfulness. If you would like to learn more about how to cope with stress and anxiety and how to get better at mindfulness check out my course Overcome Stress and Anxiety which contains coping skills similar to the above and much more!!
Available now at https://amanda-mccall-professional-counselor-lpc.teachable.…
Amanda McCall, Licensed Professional Counselor