How Acceptance Can Help Your Depression

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
July 14, 2023
How Acceptance Can Help Your Depression

It may be hard to see how acceptance can help your depression. You want to feel good and strong. But acceptance in the moment doesn’t mean it’ll last forever.

Imagine you’ve been driving for hours and are losing focus. You might think, “I’m always late. Everything always takes me too long.” You get angry (depression turned inwards) and push the pedal to 90 mph to arrive faster. A minute later, your head is nodding and your eyes glazing over.

Or you could pull into a rest stop. Then you could decide to let someone else drive, take a nap, or check into a motel, and accept you’ll be behind schedule. Before you can make a good choice, you need to accept that you’re too tired to keep driving. Fighting weariness is the worst choice of all.

The same logic applies to depression. When you’re depressed, everything feels exhausting. It’s hard to get out of bed or sleep, eat or eat well, talk or listen, work, and relax. You’re always fighting your emotional weariness.


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To make a better choice, you may need to first stop fighting. Acceptance of depression doesn’t mean you decide you love being depressed. It means you interrupt the cycle of pushing back. It’s like deciding to listen to your sister or child instead of stonewalling or punishing them.

Acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, has some scientific backing for depression, as well as anxiety, pain, and addiction. In an early book on ACT, “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life,” author Steven Hayes invites readers to stop fighting their thoughts and then reshape their lives to match their values.

You can adopt one of many techniques to defuse the thought — “I’m always late. Everything always takes too long.” — so it is less powerful. Then you can remember that you value being a safe driver and don’t want to kill yourself or anyone else.

The goal is to stop avoiding, denying, and struggling with your emotions. Instead, you accept your deeper feelings as appropriate responses to situations, so they do not prevent you from moving forward with your life.

In classic cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you learn to catch punishing thoughts, like “I’m always late,” and replace them with neutral observations, such as “I did something that didn’t have the outcome I hoped for.” Ideally, that can help you reach the point where you pull into the rest stop.

With ACT, you might sing “I’m always late,” as if you were Frank Sinatra, or shout “late, late, late, late.” Like a graduate of a mindful meditation class, you might say out loud: “I’m noticing that I’m late, and I’m tired.” In one review of 39 randomized controlled trials of ACT, the authors concluded that various ACT approaches did as well as classic CBT with depression.

Whether you seek ACT training or more standard CBT, you can take several in-person sessions, work with a therapist online, or use workbooks. The trick will be practicing and remembering to apply the techniques even after you begin to feel better.


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July 14, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN