We tend to create so much unnecessary stress for ourselves by refusing to accept a given situation as it is and dealing with it calmly. Often, our initial reaction to a situation we don’t like is denial, telling ourselves, “Things should not be this way!” This insistent denial creates stress because we find the circumstances facing us “unacceptable.” We kind of have to work through this denial before we can calm down, begin to think rationally and give any kind of meaningful or productive response to our circumstances. We can waste a good deal of time, energy and frustration with our resistance, while also doing damage to those around us, who also experience our anger, tension and resentment.
The sooner we can shift from “Things shouldn’t be this way!” to giving ourselves a message of acceptance, such as, “So, this is the way things are,” the more quickly we can examine our options and the less emotional and physical energy we waste in our resistance.
This is also an important lesson we pass along to our children, intentionally or not. Children learn from and, by nature, repeat the coping patterns they learn from their parents. They learn from us how to view difficult situations, whether to point fingers and place blame, or how to remain calm in the face of adversity. If we become easily agitated, angry or anxious, chances are, that’s the way they will deal with their own problems, as well.
Take control of your thinking is critical to achieving acceptance. We can sometimes give into the temptation of allowing our minds to run rampant with self-defeating thoughts, such as, “Why does everything have to be so hard?”, “Nothing I do ever works out right.” or “Things are never going to be the way I want.” Dwelling on such thoughts only magnifies them and we can soon see nothing except negativity in our life. To break this way of thinking, we have to intentionally interrupt those thoughts by challenging them with a more balanced recognition of the things in our lives that are rewarding, as well as a more realistic view of the struggles others are facing.
· Focus on the things you can control. Even when circumstances are not the way you want them to be, the most effective approach is to ask, “What can I do?”. This focuses your attention on practical steps you can take to begin taking more control of your actions and thoughts. As you begin to take even small steps that are within your control, you will find that, even in difficult circumstances, you begin to feel more empowered.
· Remember: The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. Recognize that everyone has difficult circumstances to work through; we just generally don’t let others see when we’re struggling. Because of the tendency to keep our struggles to ourselves, when we look at others around us, we can get the idea that we are the only one with challenges, while everyone else’s life is filled with ease and contentment. This assumption could not be further from the truth; no one gets through life unscathed. Like ducks on a pond, if you pay close attention, you will find that those who seem to have it all together on the surface are peddling like crazy underneath.
· Find the positives in your circumstances. By nature, we find what we’re looking for. So, if you expect to see only difficulties in your life, then your attention is automatically more drawn to those areas. However, when you begin to push yourself to see good in those same circumstances, you will notice that there are two sides of the coin in any situation. If you focus on broadening your perspective, you can achieve a better balance between seeing the benefits, as well as the challenges, nearly every time.
· Focus on the moment. Much of our discouragement and frustration comes from focusing too far into the future. We can easily project our discouragement onto the rest of the week, this year, or the rest of our lives. However, we can gain a greater sense of control over our circumstances by focusing our attention on right now, on this moment. Even if it seems to be something small, you can nearly always find something you can enjoy about this moment.
· Emotions are temporary. Even if you struggle with changing your thoughts, finding positives, or focusing on the moment, you can find some encouragement by recognizing that the way you feel right now is temporary. Even if circumstances are beyond your control, the way you feel right now is not the way you will always feel. Resisting the tendency to measure our entire lives, past or future, by the way we feel at a given moment is something we all struggle with at times. By seeing your emotions as “just the way I feel right now (or today, or at this stage of life)”, you can focus on managing your circumstances for a period of time, instead of seeing what you face as a permanent condition.
Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker & Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.