Megan Hine on acceptance as a coping strategy
BOM columnist Megan Hine on how to use acceptance to help you cope with stressful situations. More life-changing work from the brilliant Meg...
Hammering on the door, desperate to get out she battered her fists against it, her fingertips raw and bloody as she sought around the edges to get a purchase. In angered defeat she sank down, her back against the cause of her frustration. Head in her hands, ‘why me?’, ‘this is so unfair’, ran through her mind. Kicking at the floor she sought to blame someone for her predicament.
Taking a few deep breaths she forced her body to relax, the muscles of her neck and shoulders to release. The action clearing her mind, allowed her to analyse the situation. Reluctantly she acknowledged that the door was sealed, there would be no way out of it. With this came an acceptance. A weight lifted off her shoulders and she felt her head come up and look around. Then she spotted it, on the wall beside the door, just above head height: a window, the panes dark with grime. Pushing a chair to the wall she climbed up, wrapping her fist in cloth from her t-shirt she punched the glass. Golden light streamed into the room bringing with it fresh air, hope and a way forward.
How often do we find ourselves desperately struggling against an unseen or unbending foe? The energy we put into these battles, the stress, the anxiety, the time spent worrying can become overwhelming and consume our lives.
The cause of this struggle is so personal, it could be dealing with a debilitating illness, politics at work, not making the sports team. It is a feeling of losing control, of panic, of anger – it is overwhelming. If one is not careful, it starts having a knock on effect on physical and emotional health. Sleepless nights, binge eating or drinking, stomach issues.
A human trait is to keep soldiering on and think we should be able to cope – after all our struggle is nothing compared to what others are going through. Let me stop you right there! Struggle is personal, if you feel overwhelmed or stressed these are very real and debilitating emotions and to be able to function at your optimum you must find a way to manage them.
Acceptance is not giving up, it is not a passive resignation. It is not about liking the situation you find yourself in but an acknowledgement that you cannot change it at the moment. With this you give yourself permission to feel the emotions you are experiencing. The pain may still be there but the reality of the situation has been acknowledged and this allows you to start redirecting energy to take a different path, to see other possibilities or to forge a path forwards. It allows you to stop hammering on that door and allows you to lose the tunnel vision and see the window you can climb out of.
This is not easy by any means and takes practice and a recognition that you may need to accept the situation time and time again as you temporarily regress. I have found the best way personally to deal with this is to allow myself to feel the anger and frustration and go push myself hard on the mountain bike trails. There is a peace in the trails, the self-reliance that helps me put life back into perspective, to accept situations for what they are and move on.
Acceptance is a lesson the wilds have taught me time and time again. So often on expeditions or trips outdoors, something happens which couldn’t have been predicted or which is out of your control. Bad weather, unstable snow conditions, sickness. When you have been planning for months or years to achieve a certain goal such as the summit of a mountain and the weather conditions suddenly change making it dangerous to carry on with your summit bid it can be incredibly hard not to succumb to summit fever (a compulsion to reach a summit at whatever cost). When up against the force of nature, if you don’t accept and acknowledge the situation pretty quickly there is a very high chance of injuring yourself or worse.
On a recent expedition deep in the Amazon, we had the opportunity to make a groundbreaking discovery. Within two kilometres of our goal we experienced a large dump of rain which caused the rivers to rise by over 5 meters in the space of half an hour and took a couple of days to recede. With the threat of more rain we found ourselves unable to go any further. Highly frustrated and on a tight schedule, we made the decision to turn around and come back at a later date. While my heart screamed to push on, my head was able to acknowledge the danger of the situation and accept the situation which gave me the clarity of mind to turn around.
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