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When crises strike and problems arise, be it a medical issue, low mood, a relationship break up, or a financial set back, it makes sense to try to deal with the situation….to change it or fix it in some way. You look for doable solutions, make a plan, and set it in action.
But what happens if you are up against a problem that is just not going away? You have tried everything: you have set goals, implemented changes, consulted with medical professionals and therapists, and yet you still experience that chronic pain, long-term depression, or pervasive anxiety? The trouble is that if our efforts to change the problem over time are not successful, we can end up feeling discouraged, exhausted and even hopeless. Radical Acceptance is a concept that can offer a way out of this endless struggle. But before we turn to Radical Acceptance, let me tell you a story about a guy named Joe the Nuisance.
Imagine you have planned a party. You have organized every detail, spared no expense, and invited all your favourite people. The evening arrives, the candles are lit, your place is filled with delicious scents of food and drink, and music and light pore from the windows. Your friends start to arrive and you feel happy and bright. But just as the night is getting really fun, you hear a loud banging at the door and before you can open it, Joe barges in. Joe is an old neighbor of yours and has always been a nuisance. He talks too loud, he swears and drinks too much, and always breaks something every time he is around. You purposely did NOT invite Joe to your party. But he showed up anyways.
At first you try to ignore him, turning your back on him and trying to enjoy the conversation you are participating in. But you can hear Joe crashing through the kitchen and making a mess. You can’t concentrate on your conversation and you start to get upset. So then you walk over to Joe and you tell him to leave right this minute. He just smiles at you, picks up another glass of wine and shoves some more of that expensive cheese into his mouth. You don’t want to make a scene so you diplomatically try to nudge him towards the door. Joe then gets mad. He starts to yell and break things and berates you for not inviting him. The music stops, your guests feel uncomfortable, and you start to cry. Everyone goes home and you are left alone with a big mess and…with Joe. Yep, he is still there. He is not going anywhere. He’s your neighbor and you are stuck with him. So what do you do?
- Never plan another party
- Yell and scream every time he shows up
- Or try your best to accept him and enjoy yourself anyways
What would you do? We can imagine that chronic conditions like pain, depression, or anxiety are Joe the Nuisance. Do we let these conditions take us away from enjoying life? Or getting angry every time they show up? Or do we take a stance of Radical Acceptance, and decide to live our life anyways?
So what is Radical Acceptance exactly?
- It is clearly recognizing what you are experiencing in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion. Allowing the painful sensations and emotions to be present. Observe them, be curious about them, and watch them come and go.
- It is knowing what you can and can’t change, and then accepting what you can’t change while putting effort into what you can change.
- Radical Acceptance does NOT mean just giving up and accepting you can’t do anything about your pain or depression/anxiety. This is called “passive resignation” which is more about giving into the struggle. Radical acceptance is giving up the struggle while putting energy into what you want your life to look like.
- Radical acceptance it totally different than giving up. It is an active, positive, engaged embracing of your experience undertaken so that you can more fully live your life.
- It means living with what you cannot control, even if it is unpleasant, and still actively pursuing the life you want.
How do you start practicing Radical Acceptance? One way is to reach out to a counsellor who works from a mindfulness-based CBT approach and talk to them about this idea and how to implement it in your life. Another way is to start practicing mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing every time your pain or emotional distress surfaces. Acknowledge the pain, allow it to be there, accept it. Then ask yourself:
If it wasn’t for my pain/depression/anxiety I would___________________.
Whatever you filled in that blank with, start today by taking the first step. Do it anyhow, even if your pain is still present and see what happens to the intensity of your pain, depression or anxiety. You might just be surprised. You might just learn how to enjoy your party anyways, even if Joe the Nuisance does show up uninvited.
Okanagan Clinical Counselling services has several counsellors who work from a mindfulness-based CBT approach. At OCCS we specialize in counselling for long-term conditions like chronic pain, depression, or anxiety and incorporate meditation and mindfulness techniques in therapy sessions. Call today to book an appointment at any of our three Okanagan locations (Kelowna, Penticton, or Westbank) or to book a session with our online counsellor who can work with you from the comfort of your home.
This blog post was written by OCCS Registered Clinical Counsellor: