Daisy Mack’s father always repeated a simple mantra: “You can only be you.”
She never really understood what he meant until after he died. “There were 6 weeks between my father’s funeral and the beginning of COVID in 2019,” says Mack, a personal health coach in Los Angeles.
“I was so exhausted. I had absolutely no energy, and one day I woke up and thought, ‘I only have energy just to be me.’ I finally understood it.”
It was a watershed moment for Mack, who had lived with high levels of stress and psoriasis her whole life. She knew she couldn’t continue working in the exhausting world of music industry promotion and be well.
“I had put so much effort into my future goals that I was never really accepting myself in the present, and that’s where all the beauty and power lies,” Mack says. “If you start being yourself in the now, your future will take care of itself.”
What she is describing is the simple, yet difficult, act of radical acceptance.
“Radical acceptance is accepting what is, just as it is, in the moment,” says Jennifer Taitz, PsyD, assistant clinical professor in psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. “With any health condition, the judging or physically tensing around it can make it so much worse. Radical acceptance can make it a little bit easier by not worrying about anything but this moment or expecting it to get worse.”
Radical acceptance can help in big ways, like coming to terms with the diagnosis of psoriasis or another chronic illness. It also can benefit you in smaller ways, like managing the stress of a flare.
Radically Accepting Your Diagnosis
The goal of radical acceptance is to “go from a place of it’s not fair to a place of gratitude and continuing to improve your life even when it feels unfair,” Taitz says. Which, of course, sounds easier than it is.
The first step is getting all of the information you can about your diagnosis, Taitz says, and then “dealing with things as they come rather than imagining worst-case scenarios.” This can happen when you “slow down and ask yourself: if you really accept this, what will you do?”
Some options include:
- Making lifestyle changes, such as diet, stress reduction, and exercise, to control flares
- Learning about your treatment options
- Looking into mindfulness-based stress-reduction classes designed specifically to help people manage chronic health conditions
Practicing Radical Acceptance in Small Moments
It’s a simple idea, but one that takes practice to learn. Here are Taitz’s steps:
- Notice when you’re judging an experience or fighting reality. Your inner voice might be saying, “this shouldn’t be like this. I can’t take it. It’s not fair.”
- Pay attention to how your body is reacting to these thoughts.
- Let go of both the thoughts and any tension you’re holding in your body in response to them.
- Come back to accepting what is as it is and let go of the fight.
Another skill to try is called half-smiling. “You release any tension in your face,” Taitz says, “and then, ever so slightly, you raise the upper corners of your lips.” That small movement sends a neurological signal to your mind to be at peace.
Therapy and Other Tools
Psychotherapy and mindfulness can help you develop radical acceptance. The concept was popularized by psychologist Marsha Linehan, PhD, who developed dialectical behavioral therapy, and meditation teacher Tara Brach, PhD, who created the acronym RAIN (recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture) for a step-by-step process for accepting things as they are and supporting yourself through challenges.
Look for practitioners who incorporate these approaches or others such as acceptance and commitment therapy and meditation. “There are lots of really good books, podcasts, and meditation apps that apply radical acceptance to chronic conditions,” Taitz says.
Radical Acceptance Is a Practice
“My whole life has taught me that every time you think you’ve learned the lesson, you’re going to get tested again,” says Mack, who recently had one of her worst episodes of psoriasis, including painful psoriatic arthritis, triggered by mold in a house she was renting. Before she figured out the cause and moved out, Mack felt powerless and afraid.
So she dug into her toolkit of dancing in her bedroom, showing herself compassion, and journaling “to get out all of my negativity on the page.” All of which helped her “radically be myself.” When she was able to move out, her skin improved dramatically, “but it was definitely a test,” she says.
“Radical acceptance takes a lot of practice,” Taitz says. “Just keep coming back to it and learn from your setbacks. At any moment, it is not too late.”