An unexpected work assignment with a short deadline. 5 o’clock traffic with tailgaters. Your preschooler throwing a tantrum because you cut their sandwich in thirds instead of quarters. This is everyday life. Circumstances mostly out of our control. Inconveniences that can send us into a downward spiral when our stress tolerance is low.

The death of a family member. A cancer diagnosis. Job loss due to downsizing. Unexpected traumas. Understandably more difficult to navigate than the day to day inconveniences, but still circumstances mostly outside of our control.

Often when I write about stress management, I share practical tips. Things like scheduling self-care in your calendar and prioritizing that time slot like a meeting with your boss … even if your self-care appointment is a bath with Epsom salts and lavender essential oil. This piece is different. Instead of practical tips, I am sharing the concept of acceptance. Accepting that stressful situations and the resulting emotions are 100% normal could be just the mindset shift that makes a difference.

I’m not downplaying fear, grief, sadness, frustration and anxiety, especially when dealing with difficult situations. The emotions we experience as a result of these large and small stresses are normal, often justified, and completely understandable. While unpleasant, the situations and our emotions aren’t necessarily the issue. The issue is often our long-term reaction.

Living each day in a victim role instead of taking responsibility for what we can control guarantees we’ll always be overwhelmed by stress. It’s healthy to feel emotions and to allow yourself to process them. Venting and sharing how you feel with others is healthy, to an extent. I highly recommend a licensed counselor or other mental health professional for more difficult situations. Counselors have helped me overcome mental funks, depression, and anxiety on more than one occasion.

However, if we’re overthinking and ruminating, constantly complaining and blaming the situations for how we feel and act, stressing about how we’re so stressed out, and believe we can’t do anything to change how we feel … then it’s going to be an uphill battle to manage our stress. (Yes, I know that’s a run-on sentence, but I’m not stressing over it.)

Stress management sometimes means accepting that stressful situations are 100% normal (and to be expected). It’s also means accepting the emotions we feel as a result of these situations are a normal human reaction. Let yourself feel them but do your best not to drown in them indefinitely. There is only so much we can control. We do the best we can, but life is often chaotic. Most of the things we stress about are small things in the big picture, even though they seem overwhelming at the time. And sometimes horrible things happen to good people. Those horrible things can make us stronger … if we choose to feel and process the emotions, accept the situation, adjust where we can, and move forward. That’s where we find relief. Acceptance is how we start living more fulfilling, joyful lives. It’s how we grow and truly thrive.

It’s up to us to make this mental shift. We can find acceptance through faith in God, the Universe, our own mental fortitude or whatever else helps us see the big picture. There is freedom in acceptance, in taking ownership of our reactions and letting go of what we can’t control or change. Prayer, counseling, affirmations, gratitude practices, self-care activities like massage, regular movement, getting adequate sleep, nourishing our bodies with clean foods, prioritizing time for fun … these are all wonderful tools for stress management. But ultimately, it’s like Glinda the Good Witch told Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, “You’ve always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.”

~ Danielle Ratliff, Owner, Serenity Now Massage Therapy