If you are like me, you know that the only cure to your feelings of anxiety is through acceptance. Yes, that dreaded ‘A’ word.
Some immediately get what it is. There’s an intuitive understanding of what acceptance means. And then there are the rest of us who struggle to understand what this concept means. Yet still, there’s some part of us that resonates with this concept and knows that this is the real deal.
Part of us knows that all of those supplements we take, exercises we do, our positive self-talk or any guided meditation we listen to can’t really work without this attitude of acceptance. We know in our heart that this is the way, but our mind just won’t shut up about whether we understand what acceptance means or not.
Over the years, I have thought long and hard about what acceptance really means to me and my recovery, and I’d like to share my conclusions with you. This is not an authoritative definition for the practice of acceptance – this is just how I understand what it is.
Acceptance is Giving Up Trying to Control the Uncontrollable
At the root of all anxiety problems is one thing: control.
Anxious people want to be in control, especially when our anxiety is peaking. We feel like anxiety is an untamed beast that can pounce on us when we least expect to feel it. We then try to control this beast through many measures such as deep breathing, changing the thought or distracting ourselves by counting from one to a million. These methods may work sometimes, but it’s never quite settling. We’re always on the lookout for when it will happen again.
Acceptance, on the other hand, is the act of giving up control over your anxiety. You let it roam wildly and spin whatever thoughts, feelings and sensations it is capable of producing.
Many of you might have heard the Serenity Prayer before, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of wisdom that elucidates this facet of acceptance.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Acceptance of your anxiety is the wisdom that you have no control over it. When you realize that, it frees up so much space inside of you. Trying to control your anxiety is akin to trying to control the sun from rising up in the morning.
I’m not saying that acceptance means living a life enslaved to anxiety. Rather, it means not wasting considerable energy fighting it. Instead of pleading with it to leave you alone so you can connect with life again, it means doing all those life-connecting activities along with your anxiety.
Acceptance is a Long-term Commitment
When people first hear about the magical cure of acceptance, they think that just by accepting their anxiety, it will immediately leave them. Granted, there is sometimes a very quick relief; when your anxiety builds up to a high degree, just saying yes to the scary thoughts will cause the buildup to recede. But more often than not, acceptance is a long-term commitment.
If you are accepting anxiety just so it will leave you alone immediately, then that is not acceptance at all.
Imagine anxiety as a guest from far away wanting to stay in your home. We try our best to shut the doors, board up the windows and not let this unwelcome guest in. In turn, this prevents us from ever leaving our home and connect with the outside world, speaking metaphorically and sometimes literally. Acceptance, on the other hand, means welcoming this anxiety and allowing it to stay in our home for as long as it wants.
That doesn’t mean that it is the new master of the house. You still hold the key to your home. You try to take good care of yourself, try to do your work to your best capacity and focus on other life-fulfilling activities. In most cases, this is the natural outcome of acceptance since you are not spending all your time boarding up and trying to shut down anxiety from coming inside. Acceptance gives you the freedom to move in and out, and opens up the windows to the world.
Acceptance Means Coming Out of the Closet
How many anxious people keep their anxiety to themselves? What could be more anxiety-inducing than containing and bottling up anxiety so that other people don’t see what’s happening inside of us? When in a conversation, we try really hard to keep a straight face and seem interested even when the dread and fear are churning us inside out.
When you’ve accepted anxiety, you no longer feel shameful about it.
Look, we are all humans and to a certain degree we all feel these unsettling feelings. Some of us feel them way more than others, but when we try to push them down so we can pretend to have a straight face, it does more harm than good. It is okay to say to someone that you are feeling anxious. Come out of that anxiety closet. You’ll be surprised to learn just how supportive people can be when you open up like that.
Acceptance is Not Fighting What Is
When one fights what has already happened or with what is already present, frustration is sure to follow.
Your anxiety has already risen, it is already present, it is part of reality now. Why fight it? Why waste considerable energy and stress ourselves out trying to contain a feeling that is already present with us? Instead, wouldn’t it make sense to let it stay there and follow its due course, which is to rise, peak and then recede?
A lot of people might see this as a defeat, as if somehow they have lost their fight to anxiety by letting it run its course.
Remember, anxiety peaks and becomes scarier the more you resist it, so to throw out your arms and walk away from this fight is not only a courageous action but also the smartest thing to do.
You can’t kill stress with more stress. You cannot fight your way out of anxiety. Accept your anxious, dreadful feelings. Over time, your body and mind will stop resisting these feelings and they will gradually lessen in their intensity. With enough time passing, these once fearful feelings will simply seem more of an inconvenience. After that, you can start listening to what your anxiety is trying to tell you and start making the required changes to live a worry free life.