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8 Steps to Accept the Things You Can’t Fix About Chronic Illness

Living Well

June 17, 2024

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by Stefanie Remson


Medically Reviewed by:

Tiffany Taft, PsyD


by Stefanie Remson


Medically Reviewed by:

Tiffany Taft, PsyD


Accepting your condition can feel like giving in, but it can help you make peace with your situation. Becoming mindful, nonjudgmental, and compassionate toward yourself are significant first steps.

You Are Here: A series on mindfulness and chronic illness

There are plenty of challenges to being chronically ill. One powerful tool to help you cope is becoming chronically mindful. Whether you’re a seasoned meditator or you’re mindful-curious, You Are Here offers unique perspectives and simple strategies to connect more deeply with life, no matter what it throws your way.

Has mindfulness played a role in how you manage chronic illness? Share your story with us at

If you’re living with chronic illness, you may feel a loss of control along with worry about the future. You may even grieve your former self.

One way to manage the big emotions that come with living with a chronic illness is to control what you can and accept the things you can’t.

Read on to learn about the power of acceptance when it comes to chronic illness.

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What is acceptance?

Acceptance is the act of recognizing and embracing reality as it is, without judgment, resistance, or attempts to change it.

It involves acknowledging the present moment with openness and compassionate awareness.

This includes:

  • your thoughts
  • your emotions
  • your circumstances
  • your experiences

Acceptance doesn’t mean approving of or giving into chronic illness, nor does it mean giving up on your goals. Acceptance is about finding peace with what is — both your limitations and your strengths.

When you play a card game, you can’t control what cards you’re dealt, but you can control how you play the cards. The same goes for chronic illness.

“Denying that life has shifted or remaining stuck in disbelief of the diagnosis can cause persistent feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, and a lack of control,” says licensed therapist Christina L. Aranda, PhD. “It can prevent someone from taking an active approach in their care and make them falsely believe that nothing can help.”

You can control how you respond, react, and adapt to chronic illness and the lifestyle changes that come along with it.

There’s a famous saying about acceptance known as the serenity prayer. It’s most recently attributed to Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr and often used by people in recovery.

It’s been adapted over many decades, but the main theme remains the same. I keep a shortened version of the prayer on hand and refer to it often as a reminder.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

— The Serenity Prayer

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Getting started with acceptance

Here’s how to start accepting the things you can’t change when it comes to living with a chronic illness.

1. Acknowledge it all

Acceptance begins with recognizing and acknowledging the facts of your chronic illness. This includes physical limitations, medications, and treatments.

It also includes looking within. Identify and recognize the thoughts, feelings, or experiences you may associate with the diagnosis. Even when difficult feelings come up, it’s important not to deny or minimize them but to allow them to be.

“We shouldn’t try to avoid negative or uncomfortable emotions,” says Virginia Dawson, board certified psychiatrist at Headspace. “While this might temporarily alleviate the feelings, it can cause them to come up in even bigger ways in the future if we don’t allow ourselves to fully experience them and choose how, when, and if to respond.”

Fear, anger, and uncertainty are natural parts of a major diagnosis. Remind yourself it’s OK to feel those emotions. It doesn’t mean you aren’t doing your best to care for yourself and stay positive despite your condition.

“We are more than our emotional state at any given time,” adds Dawson.

2. Develop nonjudgmental awareness

Acceptance requires observing the present moment without judgment or criticism. Allow yourself to experience thoughts, feelings, and emotions without labeling them as good or bad.

Stay curious about yourself and your chronic illness to avoid self-judgment on your journey to acceptance. Curiosity can lead to greater insight about yourself and how you relate to the world.

“When we are able to be curious with ourselves about our emotions, then we have the opportunity to choose healthy responses to those emotions,” says Dawson. “Mindfulness can help us to be curious about our own thoughts and emotions, and from curiosity, we can have compassion.”

3. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that involves intentionally bringing one’s focus to the present moment with curiosity and nonjudgmental awareness. It can involve formal meditation or simply being aware of the moment in everyday life.

Mindfulness can be a powerful tool to manage big emotions associated with living with a chronic illness and accepting things you can’t fix.

Try it

Here’s a mindfulness exercise to practice when experiencing big or overwhelming emotions.

  • Start by labeling the emotion. Call it what it is and describe it in detail. An emotion wheel can be helpful.
  • Identify what sensations are associated with the emotion you’re experiencing. Once you identify these physical signs, it’s easier to notice when you’re experiencing the emotion.
  • Ask nonjudgemental questions and stay curious about your experience. Don’t minimize your feelings in your answers. You can ask:
    • Where did this feeling come from?
    • Where in the body do I feel this emotion?
    • Does it feel heavy or light? Hot or cold?
    • What color is this emotion?
    • What is this emotion trying to tell me?
  • Allow the emotion to be there without being fixed or acted on. You can even let your feelings know they’re welcome to be there as a valid part of your experience.

After the practice, decide whether your practice feels complete. You may feel a sense of release and satisfaction or that some action needs to be taken to resolve the emotion.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you need to talk about the emotion with someone? Journal about it?
  • Do you need to take action to resolve this emotion? If so, how?
  • Does labeling the emotion put your mind at ease, and you no longer feel overwhelmed by it?
  • Is it possible to stay with this emotion without taking action?

4. Let go of control

Acceptance involves letting go of control. When living with a chronic illness, you likely have physical and mental limitations that aren’t optional, like fatigue, joint pain, or headaches.

Letting go of control is uncomfortable, but trying to push past your body’s limits is so much more uncomfortable — and can even be harmful.

Letting go allows for more adaptability and flexibility as you accept and embrace the changes your chronic illness brings to your life.

5. Embrace your limitations

Recognizing that the ups and downs of your life with chronic illness are unavoidable and expected can help you to thrive while living with a chronic illness.

Instead of getting frustrated with yourself, you can give yourself a break when you need extra rest, can’t complete a task, or need to ask for help.

“It’s important that self-care is prioritized above all else,” says Aranda. “For some, this means not focusing so much on the needs of others … and instead focusing inward on what they need to best manage their condition. It may mean setting boundaries with others, limiting commitments, or changing to a different type of work (or none at all).”

6. Allow peace in

Acceptance of your life with chronic illness can lead to feelings of inner peace and contentment. Accepting the reality of what can’t be changed can help you cultivate resilience, mental calmness, and a stronger sense of well-being.

It can also lead to a sense of relief that you no longer have to fight against the inevitable.

7. Grant yourself compassion

Self-compassion plays a crucial role in accepting things you cannot fix by fostering a kind attitude toward yourself, especially when living with the challenges that come with living with chronic illness.

Try the below tips to practice self-compassion when living with a chronic illness:

  1. Replace self-criticism and negative self-talk with a kind, empathetic inner voice.
  2. Focus on what’s happening now rather than in the past or future. Stay curious rather than judgmental.
  3. Remember that things may happen to you. They don’t define you, and they aren’t your fault.
  4. Recognize your common humanity with everyone else and that everyone has a hard time sometimes.
  5. Set realistic expectations and achievable goals for yourself.
  6. Celebrate wins, whether big or small.
  7. Seek support from a counselor, friend, family member, or support group.

8. Invoke gratitude

Gratitude can be a deliberate and intentional practice for focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life.

If you’re living with chronic illness, you may have experienced some dark times where it’s difficult to see the positive aspects of your life. This practice can help you highlight the things that make it all worth it, even during hard times.

There are various ways to develop a gratitude practice. These include:

  1. Writing in a gratitude journal: It could be about everything you’re grateful for this day, week, or month.
  2. Practicing gratitude meditation: You can do this by becoming aware of what you’re grateful for and focusing on the sensation of gratitude in the body.
  3. Expressing gratitude to others: You can simply say “thank you” more, pause and make a mental note about something you appreciate, or write letters to people you’re thankful for. Whether you actually send them is up to you.


A chronic illness diagnosis is life-altering and can be challenging to accept. However, accepting your diagnosis can be the secret to living your best life each day.

Accepting the things you can’t fix can help you go from surviving to thriving when living with a chronic illness.

Medically reviewed on June 17, 2024

3 Sources

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About the author

Stefanie Remson

Ms. Stefanie Remson MSN, APRN, FNP-BC is the CEO and founder of She is a family nurse practitioner and is a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patient herself. She has spent her entire life serving the community as a healthcare professional and has refused to let RA slow her down. She has worked with The Arthritis Foundation, The Lupus Foundation of America, Healthline, Grace and Able, Arthritis Life, Musculo, Aila, and HopeX. You can learn more at her website and on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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