Can we accept our difficult thoughts and emotions, like a grandmother lovingly holding her grandchild?
Last week my blog was about managing stress. One of the things that can help us manage stress better is accepting our thoughts and feelings. What does that mean? For most of us, when we have a difficult feeling such as anger, sadness or fear, we tend to turn away from that feeling. Perhaps we get busy doing things. Some of us may turn to alcohol, drugs or distractions like social media so we don’t have to be with these feelings. When we consistently do not attend to our difficult feelings, they don’t go away. In fact, they may take on more power in our lives. Interestingly, embracing difficult emotions like sadness or anxiety can make us less likely to get stuck in them.
Practicing acceptance means learning how to accept your present moment experience with all of its emotions, thoughts and sensations, in all its shades and subtleties. One study has shown that when people learn to accept and not just notice their experience they can be less reactive to stress. In this study, adults were assigned to one of two Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses. In one course, they learned to pay attention to their experience in an accepting and non-judgmental way. In the other course, they learned mindfulness practice but without the acceptance piece. There was a third control group that received no course.
While people in all of the study groups experienced less stress over time, the people who learned acceptance had a significantly sharper improvement than the other two groups. Study coauthor Emily Lindsay suggests that when people accept difficult experiences, it allows the experiences to pass through them, while resisting the experience only makes it stronger. Lindsay believes acceptance helps people see the bigger picture and not just focus on what’s wrong. This helps us respond to our external circumstances in a wiser way.
So how can we develop acceptance of our thoughts and feelings? Self-compassion helps (see my previous blog). There is a helpful mindfulness practice for working with difficult emotions. It’s called RAIN, which stands for Recognize, Acknowledge, Investigate, and Non-identify (with your emotions). Here is a link to information on the RAIN practice
In my work I draw on a therapeutic approach called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT, which helps us develop our ability to accept our emotions and thoughts. For more about how I work, go to my website at https://www.oceantidescounselling.ca/
For support, contact me at https://www.oceantidescounselling.ca/contact-page