Most of us have a lot of stress in our lives – too many demands and not enough time or energy for the things we want to do. Realistically, a significant number of these stressors are out of our control. But we often make it worse, resisting, or even denying, the reality of some situations.

A good way to reduce the added stress of resistance is to accept the current reality. Admit that this is just the way it is. That’s not to say that the situation shouldn’t change, or can’t be changed, only that this is the way it is now. Acknowledge the magnitude of the problem and the tension it brings.

It’s very possible the situation “shouldn’t” be the way it is, that elderly parents shouldn’t resist getting help, teenagers shouldn’t break rules, coworkers shouldn’t make our work harder, partners shouldn’t take their stress out on us, housemates shouldn’t leave their messes in the kitchen, etc. The situation may not be fair.

But the best way to go about changing a situation is not to deny what is, but to accept it and consider our options. Paradoxically, acceptance of a difficulty relaxes us. We no longer have that constant tension of railing against what we think shouldn’t be. When we stop resisting, the situation feels a bit less consuming and life can feel more manageable. Our creativity is more readily available for problem-solving.

Acceptance does not mean minimizing the impacts or importance of difficulties. Give yourself credit for tough things you’re dealing with as you earn a living, raise kids, care for a family member, go to school, or all of the above.

Often, we equate acceptance as giving up, settling for less than we want or need. In fact, we can’t effectively make positive change until we see clearly the way it is right now. Acceptance is a very powerful step and creates the foundation for a realistic plan of action. That action may be as simple as finding ways to adjust our reaction to the situation. While not necessarily easy, changing ourselves is much more likely to happen than getting someone else to change.

For example, maybe you are having trouble with a family member who is causing lots of discord in the family. Remember that you cannot change them; you can only change your response to them. Accept them for who they are being at the moment. Decide what you need to do in response to them and then do it. Your changed response will change the relationship. (Caveat: If violence is part of any of your relationships, please contact ASPEN or another organization that can help you remove yourself safely from that relationship.)

It also helps to remember the things that are not difficult in our lives, the things that support us. We have a tendency to focus on the bits that aren’t going well. However, we can choose to change our focus, at least for short periods, to those things that are positive. Each time we do so, it makes it easier to do the next time. Concentrating our attention on positive aspects of our lives helps put our troubles into perspective, reducing the impact of difficulties.

Acceptance brings choice and empowerment back into life. Once we accept the way things are now, we regain access to all of that energy we had been using to resist what clearly is. It’s tough to accept reality when we’re in the thick of things, especially if the situation doesn’t seem fair, but making the effort will pay off in the long run. We will be better able to see ways to change the situation to improve our experience of life.