How Radical Acceptance Can Improve Your Mental Health During the Pandemic
Happy Wednesday, friends! How’s your mental health this week? If you’re like me, you might still be finding our present circumstances a bit surreal. Here in New Brunswick we’re about two months in to the bizarre “new normal” – a world with social restrictions, total overhaul of work life and constantly evolving protocols to stay on top of. It can be tough not to let yourself be bogged down in the “what ifs”. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, how can you preserve your mental health while being at the mercy of the pandemic? We might benefit from drawing on the wisdom of the old adage about accepting the things we cannot change.
Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) is a common approach in modern talk therapy which teaches people practical skills for managing stress, anxiety and other difficult emotional experiences (learn more about it HERE). One such coping strategy that’s relevant for these times is called radical acceptance. When will life get back to normal? I shouldn’t feel so stressed out/frustrated/angry/sad, I should just be grateful for XYZ. How am I going to manage if [insert made-up potential crisis] happens? If these are thoughts you’ve had, you might find practicing radical acceptance useful.
Our experience of anxiety basically means the Fight or Flight response switch is stuck in the “on” position. Anxiety seeks validation, meaning that while the nervous system is kicked into overdrive the brain is frantically seeking more information to determine the best course of action in order to ensure our survival. This is why those million and one questions creep into our minds. Our survival mechanism also prompts us to sometimes exaggerate the danger of unfamiliar threats (and I’m guessing this is your first time living through a global pandemic). In situations like the one we’re all going through together now definitive answers don’t exist, so the brain continues to seek information by recycling and conjuring new questions. As this happens, we feel increasingly helpless, hopeless and out of control. Canada’s health experts have been reminding us to limit our media exposure in part because of this very thing – when hard answers don’t exist, stewing on the same information indefinitely can end up doing more harm than good.
The concept of radical acceptance encourages us to acknowledge reality as it is – not as you wish it was. As the prominent psychologist Carl Jung said, “What you resist persists.” The theory is that a great deal of our anxiety comes not just from the situation, but the conflict between the reality that is and the reality we’re hoping for or as we think it should be. Rejecting or fighting our circumstances triggers unhelpful thoughts (such as “It’s not fair!”) and emotions (such as bitterness, anxiety and resentment). Practicing radical acceptance allows us to let go of the endless “what ifs” and instead embrace the facts. From there, we’re able to gain a sense of power and focus on the things over which we do have control.
Many of us are grieving normalcy, whatever that looked like prior to the pandemic. You may have experienced grief in response to the significant changes to your social life and relationships, your work, your financial security, or disruption to other routines. One of the well-established stages of the grieving process is indeed denial – a road that, along with other phases, leads to a place of acceptance. The only certainty at this point in time is uncertainty itself. Adopting healthy strategies for coping with our present reality is vital.
Interested in learning more about radical acceptance? Check out these articles:
Thanks for reading, and see you next week!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.