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Acceptance Defeats Worry
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.

One technique for overcoming worry is the exercise of acceptance, a mindfulness method.

What it is

Acceptance also described as detached acceptance to differentiate it from resignation or welcoming. That is, you think about the worry target without giving it any meaning, value or emotion. You simply let it be what it is. You look at it as an object. An object to merely be explored. An object to be dealt with practically. An object that may cause problems that can be dealt with practically, either by resolution or by finding ways of enduring the consequences when the resolutions are out of your hands.

How to do it

First practice making statements about things that are true but have no particular emotional content or negative associations for you, such as "the sky is blue." You are merely an observer and making a statement of fact. Then investigate the fact of the sky being blue to discover any practical use or significance of that fact. Does it have to be blue? Would you prefer another color? Is there any way to affect the color? Can you earn any money from the knowledge the sky is blue? Do you know why the sky is blue?

As you can see, you can calmly consider the fact and all of its possibilities without any particular sensitivities or expectations of harm. That means you can have full control over what you think about it, how you think about and what choices you may make in respect to it.

After you've practiced on emotionally-neutral items for a while, you'll be ready to try out the method on your worries.

Make a statement about the essence of your worry. For example: "I am getting a divorce." That statement can be very emotion-filled as well as contain a great number of possible associations. You, however, will just make the statement as if you were an observer of "getting divorced" without any personal connection to it. As if it were a statement made by a stranger who said it blandly and as a matter of fact. Or as if you said, "the sky is blue."

Despite all your practice prior to trying this out, you may start getting the usual emotional impact of the statement. Just see how far you can get as an objective observer without stumbling into the potholes of memory lane or starting your usual reactions to the meaning such a statement holds for you. Stop if you begin your worrying or react too emotionally to continue as a rational exercise. If your reactions tell you you're not yet ready, practice with the neutral fact situations a bit more and try again. When you can do the exercise on a real worry and succeed in making it objective and reasonable to deal with, you will probably be able to use that ability to detach on most other worrisome situations.

Why it works

It's experiential -- you get the opportunity to just experience objective reality even if you can only do it for very short periods, maybe even just moments. You get to think of your worry target without stress and pain.

It's pattern breaking -- your worry is a continuous loop and this breaks the loop. It is an emotional example of "stop the car, I want to get out." You can stop the worry and step away from it.

You feel the relief right away and it encourages you to keep breaking the worry loop. The relief feels so good that you can grasp how the worry is damaging you and give objectivity a chance to work.

Just try it as an exercise. Learning to accept something as merely a fact to be dealt with as any other fact takes a little practice. Most people find it's a bit like learning to ride a bicycle. A bit wobbly at first, then, all of a sudden, "Aha!"



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