Accepting Things We Cannot Control

What a year. As of this writing, 2020 is three-fourths over, there is no end in sight for the COVID-19 pandemic and the most hotly contested presidential election in recent memory is less than three weeks away. Stress, depression, and anxiety are at all-time highs around the world. How do we get through the day with so many high stress issues that we cannot control? Here are a few tips for coping with things that are outside your control.

First, we must learn to differentiate between things we can control and things we cannot. Most people feel helpless in the face of the COVID pandemic, and that feeling of helplessness generates anxiety and depression. But wait! There are things you can do. For example, if you’re resistant to wearing a mask, order in as much as possible. Plan your shopping so you can minimize the times you have to wear a mask. If you’re in a position that you have to wear it for long periods (at work, for example), allow yourself several short breaks so you can go somewhere safe and take it off for a few minutes.

Does the current political climate stress you out and you feel as though you have no control? Yes, you do. Change the channel, stay off those websites, and do not engage in political discussions. There may be big things you cannot control but if you look hard enough, you’ll find little things you can. Learn the difference and look for those little things.

Second, once you have dealt with the things you


control, what about those things you cannot? Doctor Marsha Linehan, creator of dialectical behavior therapy, coined the term

radical acceptance

. That is, accepting reality as it is, without justification, rationalization, or even understanding. Radical acceptance is based on these tenets:

• Stop fighting reality. Acceptance of reality from deep within yourself will set you free from suffering. 

• Acceptance is the only way out of your suffering.

• Pain leads to suffering only when you refuse to accept the pain.

• Acceptance means


to endure the pain. Yes, this requires an active decision on your part. Allow the uncomfortable feelings. Sit with them and allow them to flow through you.

• Acceptance means acknowledging it for what it is. Stop trying to understand or make sense of things. You don’t have to understand it in order to accept it.

• Acceptance is not the same thing as condoning or approving. Do not judge the issue as either good or bad, it simply



• Acceptance will turn your suffering into pain that can be endured.

Third, change your attitude. Yes, you can. Use positive self-talk. For example, if you begin to feel overloaded by tasks or responsibilities, remind yourself of all the things you’ve accomplished or done well rather than getting down on yourself for the things you have yet to do. If you find yourself with a seemingly endless list of household chores, remind yourself that you’ve already done two loads of laundry, fed the dog, and taken out the trash; so you


accomplished some things. Sometimes on the drive home, I recount to myself the positive things I did that day and the people I helped. Find the positives.

Another attitude changing technique that I have found quite useful is a gratitude exercise developed by Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology. It’s quite simple: every day, write down three things you are grateful for

that day

. Be specific. Do not cop out with something like “I’m grateful for my health.” You must name three things specific from that day, no matter how small. For example, if I had the best burger ever for lunch today, that’s something I could be grateful for. Through this exercise, you will learn to see the positives among a negative situation.

Last is self-care. Many people think of self-care as a vacation or a day at the spa, but there are many other ways to practice self-care in just a few minutes. Take a break and go outside. Eat your favorite food. Go to the gym. Listen to music. Read a book. Do something you


to do, not something you


to do.

Self-care is also about what


to do. As I said before, turn off the TV, news websites, and social media if they cause you stress. Don’t allow people to infringe on your time, attention, or energy if you do not want them to. Learn to say, “No.” both to yourself and to others.

There are so many things in this life that we cannot control, but that does not mean we have to suffer in silence. Learn to differentiate between what you can control and what you cannot. Within those things you cannot control, look for those little things you can (such as the mask example). Practice radical acceptance—don’t judge it as good or bad but accept that it IS, like it or not. Exchange negative self-talk for positive self-talk, and be sure to practice self-care. As always, if the situation feels like more than you can handle, seek professional help. I’m always available.