“I’m hearing that you don’t accept your anxiety. You are fighting it,” my counselor said to me, early in our work together.
“The only way you can work with it, instead of against it, and make progress toward feeling like a capable person again," she said," "is to accept that anxiety is here, and at least for right now, is a part of you.”
She was proposing I use acceptance as a coping skill to deal with my postpartum anxiety—which had become so strong and disruptive to my life.
As I pondered my counselor’s words, I realized she was right. I needed to accept that I was dealing with anxiety, even though I didn’t want to accept it. I was embarrassed by my anxiety. I felt like I didn’t have control over my brain, and at times, my actions. I didn’t like that; it made me feel incapable of being a strong woman. All of this felt so ironic because I am a counselor myself.
But by accepting this challenge in my life, I became more able to move through it and overcome it.
No matter one's challenge, using acceptance as a coping skill can apply to anyone, not just to anyone experiencing mental health challenges. We can use acceptance as a coping skill when we are in a difficult situation that is taking a toll on us. We can use it for the purpose of acknowledging that we are not able to fix something on our own, and we need to seek knowledge and guidance.
So, what does acceptance really mean? For those familiar with the stages of grief, you may know that acceptance is one of the stages. As I’ve processed through my own grief over the years, I’ve come to realize a few things about what acceptance means and what it doesn’t mean. Here are a few of the conclusions I’ve come to (so far).
Acceptance does not mean that you are okay with what happened.
I used to believe that it means you’re at peace with whatever the situation is. As I’ve experienced several challenging circumstances over the years, I’ve come to believe that’s not what it means at all. I’ve come to see it as: “This thing happened. I’m not going to deny that it happened. I may not like it/I might hate it, but I don’t want to live in denial about it because that leaves me stuck.” It means to acknowledge it as a fact, and also identify how it affects your daily life.
One of the most helpful and powerful things someone told my husband and me years ago when we were dealing with infertility was “that sucks.” It was timely and very accurate in describing how we felt. This friend was not trying to fix it or offer suggestions; she simply made this statement, and it helped us feel seen and understood.
Once I gave myself permission to not be okay with a situation and know that I may not be at peace with it, I moved closer to being able to accept it.
Acceptance means that you choose to sit with uncomfortable and unresolved emotions at times.
This is a messy part of life in general but also in the emotional wellness process. Acceptance means that you accept reality, and you choose to have uncomfortable and messy/unresolved emotions—because you are choosing not to live in denial. I understand why living in denial sounds easier than acceptance—I’ve definitely been there. Being able to say no to engaging in unhealthy vices in order to soothe the uncomfortable feelings is definitely a positive way to respond, and I’ve found healthy coping mechanisms become easier to choose when I accept that uncomfortable feelings are part of this process.
So how can we get to a place of acceptance? First off, please know that it is a roller coaster of a process, meaning that it is something to continually work at. It can definitely be tiring at times to accept that some things are undone, but the more I’ve practiced being able to identify, accept, and tolerate that uncomfortable feeling, the easier it has become.
Second, it might mean that you have conversations with your loved ones about what it means or looks like for them; this can also open the door to share your feelings about how difficult it is to accept unresolved things. Having this shared experience with someone can help you tolerate the difficult periods of accepting difficult things because you know you are not alone.
Third, it might mean that you recognize that you feel grief about how certain things in your life are not ideal, and that it’s okay to feel the denial, anger, depression, and bargaining you may experience on the path toward acceptance.
So if you're in the market for a refresh, take a minute to reflect on the things in your life right now that you feel are completely out of your control—and how practicing acceptance might help you cope better, even a little bit.