How radical acceptance can help you break the cycle of stress

Posted on 11/03/21 02:16:pm


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Traffic jams. Parenting. COVID-19. Life is full of things that are out of our control, and that tends to create frustration and stress. But it doesn’t have to.

“Radical acceptance involves the complete and total openness to the facts of reality as they are, without resisting them,” explains Lori Merling, PhD, clinical supervisor at Rogers in Miami. “It’s radical because it involves fully accepting with mind, heart, and body. You don’t have to like what’s happening or approve of a situation to practice it,” she says.

What is radical acceptance?

Radical acceptance is a skill within Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT consists of a set of skills that help people tolerate distress, regulate emotions, and navigate relationships in a positive way. DBT was developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan to help treat symptoms of borderline personality disorder. Today, DBT is used to help people dealing with various mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, or trauma.

“There are four modules within DBT—mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation,” explains Dr. Merling. “Radical acceptance falls within distress tolerance because the goal is to reduce stress and help make navigating through life easier. Practicing radical acceptance does not come naturally. It requires time and practice,” she says.

Dr. Merling gives 3 tips for practicing radical acceptance

  1. When faced with a frustrating or difficult situation, you have a choice. Am I going to choose to accept what is in this moment? Or am I going to actively fight against it which is futile and will cause me additional suffering?
  2. Since our bodies and minds are interconnected, when you’re resisting emotionally, your body can tense up as well. Try exercises like a half smile where you relax your face and your jaw, especially if it’s clenched because you’re upset. Another exercise is sitting with open hands, because when we are fighting against reality, we tend to be tight fisted.
  3. Become self-aware and self-monitor. We don’t always realize when we are willful. When you find yourself willfully resisting your present reality, like you’re stuck in traffic, you’re getting irritated, and you want to honk your horn and yell at other drivers, accept that you can’t change what is. Another example is the coronavirus. Nobody likes it, we certainly didn’t ask for it, and we all wish it wouldn’t be happening. If we choose to fight against reality and not accept it for what it is, it creates more suffering. That leaves us getting stuck in frustration because we want to control what we can’t. Instead of dwelling on how awful it is and that it shouldn’t be happening, we can choose to radically accept it.

Dr. Merling emphasizes we don’t need to approve of a situation to accept what is.

“Consider instead how you can respond in in the best possible way. When we fight reality, we make a difficult situation even worse and create more emotional discomfort. There’s a lot of freedom in letting go of the control you never really had to begin with,” she says.

How Rogers can help

For females who may have difficulty regulating their emotions, who are experiencing severe depression, or who might be at risk for self-harm or have attempted suicide, Rogers' Nashotah Center for DBT Female Adolescent Residential Care immerses teen girls in DBT to effectively reduce symptoms.

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health or addiction, call 800-767-4411. You can also complete our online request form.

Call 800-767-4411 or go to to request a free screening.