How to Diffuse Stress With Acceptance
Feeling overwhelmed? Wondering how you’re going to get it all done? Wishing you could just lie down? You aren’t alone.
Sometimes we get so busy we have a hard time enjoying our day-to-day—especially during the busy holiday season.
But with acceptance and appreciation, you can diffuse the stress that loves to pop up out of nowhere. Here's how to do it:
Bet you weren’t expecting that one! But acceptance is a strangely effective strategy for feeling happier and more relaxed.
When we accept a person or a situation we find challenging, we let go of the resistance that creates stress and tension. There’s a lot of truth to the adage that “what we resist, persists.”
Next time someone or something is being a pain in your rear, remember A&B: accept and breathe. Say to yourself something like, “I accept that Jane is upset right now; I allow this situation to be as it is.” Then notice how you are feeling, and accept how you are feeling, as well. You can say to yourself, “I accept that I am feeling angry at Jane and disappointed. I allow my feelings to be as they are right now.” And follow it up with a deep breath.
Acceptance helps us steer clear of the other common ways we respond to stress—criticism, judgment, rumination, blaming, denial, and avoidance. These are all tactics of resistance, and they won’t protect you. Ironically, these tactics will allow the disappointments or difficulties to further embed themselves into your psyche.
This is a long-winded way of pointing out that resistance doesn’t make us less stressed or more joyful in difficult situations. What does work is to simply accept that the circumstance is currently hard. We can accept a difficult situation and still make an effort to improve things.
This gentle acceptance does not mean that you are resigned to a miserable day, or that nothing you do will make the situation better. Maybe it will get better—and maybe it won’t.
Accepting the reality of a difficult situation allows us to soften. This softening opens the door to our own compassion and wisdom.
Focus on What You Appreciate
Some people—myself included—suffer from what I think of as an abundance paradox: Because we have so much, it becomes easy to take our good fortune for granted. As a result, we are more likely to feel disappointed when we don’t get what we want than to feel grateful when we do.
This tendency can be especially pronounced during the holidays, when we tend to have high hopes that everything will be perfect and wonderful and memorable. You might have a fantasy of a sweet, close relationship with an in-law, for instance, or grand ideas about the perfect Christmas Eve dinner.
This sort of hope can be a slippery slope to unhappiness: Hoping a holiday event will be the best-ever can quickly become a feeling that we won’t be happy unless it is, leading to sadness and disappointment when reality doesn’t live up to our ideal.
The trick is to ditch our expectations and instead notice what is actually happening in the moment. And then find something about that moment to appreciate.
Can you appreciate that your spouse did a lot of planning (or dishes, or shopping) this week? Do you feel grateful that you have enough food for your table? Are you thankful for your health?
Even if it doesn't feel like, we often have a great deal of choice about what we do and how we feel. We can choose to bring acceptance to difficult situations and emotions, and we can choose to turn our attention to the things that we appreciate.
This holiday season—and every day—may we all see abundance when it is all around us—not an abundance of stuff, necessarily, but rather an abundance of love and connection. Even during the difficult bits.
A version of this article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.