I wrote a post about acceptance back in March, shortly after it became clear that coronavirus had become a pandemic. A lot has happened since then, and I’m not just talking about the pandemic, which we are still enduring. I’ve seen the toll this is taking, even amongst those who have remained uninfected and have not taken major hits in terms of employment or housing.

While uncertainty about when we can return to things like coffee dates with friends, seeing our extended families safely, and being able to travel out of the country is certainly one source of stress, I also see many people struggling with meaningful self-care right now. Some of these struggles are pandemic related. For example, I have two new clients who this time last year were swimming regularly, but this year the pools are closed. They haven’t replaced that activity with something else, at least not consistently, so are missing out on the many benefits that come from moving our bodies regularly. Acceptance that life is different, for now, could help with this.

I’ve also seen a lot of self-blaming, self-shaming and giving up when healthy habits have been on the back burner for a long time — even what that fact has nothing to do with the pandemic — or when a visit to the doctor yields undesirable blood work results (cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.). None of that is helpful…but, again, acceptance CAN help.

Acceptance is not giving up

As I said in my March post, acceptance means recognizing that a situation is what it is and choosing not to engage in the mental struggles of denying reality or trying to ignore it. Acceptance does not mean that you like the situation or are resigned to it never changing.

In other words, acceptance is not complacency. Acceptance opens doors. When you accept that a situation is really happening, it creates space to say, “OK, now what?” and make a plan for how you want to proceed, whether that’s taking action or simply sitting with the situation. (An example of when you might do this is when you’re feeling a strong emotion, and you know that if you can simply make space for it, the emotion will lessen on its own.)

Without acceptance, that space is taken up by denial, whether passive (sticking your head in the sand) or active (struggling). Ignoring that something is happening or repeatedly telling yourself, “This can’t be happening” doesn’t change the situation. Rather, it gets in the way of positive change and can amplify feelings of anxiety or depression.

The acceptance “package”

Acceptance is best packaged with non-judgmental awareness and curiosity. Let me give you a scenario where these three things come together to benefit you. Let’s say that you decided you were going to eat more vegetables, but you haven’t been able to turn intention into action. You could beat yourself up for “failing,” or you can use the acceptance-awareness-curiosity triad. Here’s how that might look:

“Hmmm…I’m really not doing a consistent job of eating more vegetables. I think yesterday my only vegetables were the lettuce and tomato on my sandwich. Oh, and a pickle.” [Awareness and acceptance]

“When I said I was going to eat more vegetables, I really meant it. I know it’s good for me, and I do feel better when I’m eating more veggies. So why is it not happening? Where am I getting hung up?” [Acceptance, awareness, curiosity]

“I’m remembering to buy vegetables at the grocery store, so that’s not it. Why didn’t I roast broccoli last night like I planned? Oh…I was really tired when I got home, and then the dog needed a walk and my sister called and then it was getting late and I was super hungry.” [Awareness, curiosity]

“Maybe I need to roast a big pan of veggies on Sunday, so I just have to reheat them. I can also cut up some carrots and peppers to have with hummus, if nothing else. It would take less time to toss a quick salad than to cook a vegetable if it’s getting late and I’m getting really hungry. I should make a batch of vinaigrette to keep in the fridge. I’ll try those three things next week and see if that makes a difference.” [Acceptance, awareness, curiosity]

I have a number of clients who struggle with binge eating or emotional eating (and sometimes both), and practicing this combination of awareness, acceptance and curiosity is far more helpful than playing the denial or self-shame-and-blame game.

Strengthening your acceptance muscle

How do you practice acceptance? You can certainly practice it as stressful or otherwise unwelcome situations arise in your day-to-day life, but if you want a formal acceptance practice, then mindfulness meditation would be your best bet. Not only does any type of mindfulness help you build awareness of what’s going on around you and within you, but you will have a frequent stream of opportunities to practice acceptance—i.e., every time your mind wanders (and it will wander).

If you’ve never meditated, or are a beginner and would like some resources, check out this previous post. You’ll find plenty of tips and examples for getting started, as well as some of my favorite meditation apps, books and online resources.

Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized nutrition or medical advice.

Seeking 1-on-1 nutrition counseling? Carrie offers a 6-month Food & Body program (intuitive eating, body image, mindfulness, self-compassion) and a 4-month IBS management program (low-FODMAP diet coaching with an emphasis on increasing food freedom). Visit the links to learn more and book a free intro call to see if the program is a good fit, and if we’re a good fit!