The Psychology of Surviving Lockdown – 1# Acceptance

In this short blog series we will explore our 4 main techniques needed to maintain our mental wellbeing during this period of “Lockdown”.

The mindfulness skills of Acceptance is now even more useful than ever because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak. We find ourselves forced into a situation that is completely out of our power to change. Our brains are designed to constantly be in “problem solving mode” – which, in a situation like this, causes us to become frustrated and feel powerless. Learning the skill of Acceptance is a start to controlling the feelings of frustration and despair that can negatively affect our mental wellbeing. This paves a foundation for more positive mindset strategies.

Acceptance requires the approach of being okay with an outcome you neither really wanted, nor probably expected. In order to use the practice of mindful acceptance therapeutically, we first need to learn to divide issues into the following categories:

  • what can be changed or affected
  • what can NOT be changed or affected

The distinction is often more based around what it is appropriate to try to change, rather than what we can change. Often it is possible to have an effect, or to make changes that actually make things worse, or more complicated, thus not an appropriate change. Therefore the need is to be able to tell which things it is appropriate to try and change.

If we identify a situation where it is NOT appropriate to try to change things, then acceptance is the most appropriate response left to us.

This sounds very simple and straightforward. However, as human beings we are programmed by experience to assume that if we do not like something, or if something appears ‘wrong’, we should take action and respond to it. It becomes quite alien and uncomfortable to simply ‘leave it alone’ or to ‘accept it’. We develop this way of thinking precisely because much of life is seen as a challenge, and a problem-solving ‘can do’ attitude is often useful and often actively encouraged. From our earliest days we learn to ‘work things out’ and how to do things. Whether completing a puzzle, learning to walk, tying our shoelaces for the first time, getting a job, choosing an education subject, selecting food from a menu… life is full of decisions, choices and challenges.

Moving from a ‘problem-solving’ to ‘acceptance’ state of mind is therefore going up against many years of conditioning and habitual thinking that encourages you NOT to accept things, but to find ways of challenging and changing them.

The first step is to become aware of both your own programming, and the attempts around you to embed or reinforce such programming. As you become aware, you begin to have the opportunity to choose your responses to situations, and the chance to try practicing acceptance, and to see the potential for positivity and calmness that it can bring.

When an illness or another unchangeable negative event occurs, acceptance enables you to live with it and live WELL with it, at least as well as the condition permits. Energy wasted fighting unwinnable battles is energy that could have been dedicated to enabling happiness and quality of life.

A workplace example could be if you missed a sales target by £30,000. It has happened and it is a fact . As soon as you accept that, you can move forward and try to deal with the situation. Lack of acceptance can lead to denial of the fact (which can negatively affect sales further) or avoidance (you keep skipping meetings with your boss) or aggression (you vent your anger at your colleagues unnecessarily, adversely affecting relationships and motivation). Instead, you can accept the situation, talk to the necessary people, learn from your mistakes, and move on. Acceptance actually leads to change. When you accept yourself, you cut down on energy-draining self-criticism.  You’re then much better able to enjoy your successes and smile at your shortcomings.

Personal acceptance (or ‘personal responsibility’)  is even more powerful. Personal acceptance is embracing all facets of yourself—your weaknesses, shortcomings, aspects you don’t like and those you admire. When you accept yourself, you cut down on energy draining self-criticism. You’re then much better able to enjoy your successes and smile at your shortcomings. Through self-acceptance, you can create a clarity of mind that allows you to work on those aspects of yourself you wish to improve. The starting point of self-improvement and personal development is self-acceptance.

Why Do We Worry?

Worry is a very painful and wasteful practice. A number of things happen when we worry. Firstly, worry is the practice of going over and over a situation without solving it. Therefore it is a non-resolving thought process. When you are worrying therefore there is no positive outcome. With no positive outcome the time, effort and energy is entirely wasted. While worrying the emotions stirred up by the worrying are negative, therefore the person will be experiencing fear, anger, hurt or other negative feelings because of their association with the topic.

Physically there are always effects triggered by emotions, from classic ‘fight and flight’ to lethargy, avoidance and tension headaches. Being distracted by worry leads to more likelihood of accidents, poor work performance, being irritable with others, loss of sleep and appetite. In the long-term the physical changes that occur with worry and stress have been shown to undermine the immune system and have been linked to a vast range of illnesses and conditions, from headaches to irritable bowel syndrome. If you are already ill, worry and stress have been shown to slow recovery and diminish the morale and wellbeing of sufferers. There are only 2 answers to a worrying situation: resolution through action, or acceptance.

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