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Gaining Perspective: Mindfulness and Acceptance as Strategies for Responding to Stress

Everyone experiences stress. Whether it’s from everyday hassles such as sitting in traffic, long-term stressors such as a chronic illness, or negative life events such as the loss of a job, there is a universal understanding of what it feels like to be under stress. We often associate stress with negative life experiences or receiving bad news, however even positive experiences can be perceived as stressful. For example, people often report feeling stressed about having a child, starting college, or getting married.

What exactly is stress? In essence, stress is experienced when your capacity to cope is overwhelmed. In other words, you feel the emotional and bodily effects of stress when you don’t think you have the resources to handle a situation. Unfortunately, we cannot prevent or eliminate all stressful events from happening and so stress is a natural part of life. However, we do have control over how we respond to stressful events. And changing our response can have a significant impact on our stress levels.
Mindfulness can be a first step in healthfully responding to stress. At it’s core, mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment without passing any judgment on your experience. In other words, you are simply being aware of what you are experiencing without reacting to it. Rather than getting caught up in your emotional response to a stressful event, you are simply being an observer of it. You are watching your thoughts and feelings about the event. By creating this distinction between yourself and your thoughts and feelings, your perspective has an opportunity to shift. You may come to see your thoughts and feelings as your subjective experience instead of as reality. In this way, mindfulness can help to diffuse the impact of stressful events by creating a bit of distance from the event itself.
Being able to shift your perspective to that of an observer also helps create space for acceptance. Instead of passing judgment on the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing, trying to determine whether they are “right” or “appropriate,” or finding ways to escape them entirely, move towards a place of accepting them. This doesn’t mean you agree with them, simply that you accept them as your current experience and are not willfully trying to change them. The purpose of acceptance is to allow you to be able to move forward, even in the face of stress.
Both mindfulness and acceptance are learned through repeated practice. And while these skills take time to cultivate, there are simple ways to get started. Click here to read an earlier blog on mindfulness training exercises. You can also join a mindfulness group in your community, link up with a friend who

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