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Stress Management and the Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer
“God grant me the serenity to
Accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.”

A recent PC hard drive crash prompted me to think about the Serenity Prayer. Like many well-known and often recited texts, most of us know it. But it’s so familiar, we forget about the actual meaning and intent. Most often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step self-help groups, the Serenity Prayer is usually recited at the end of an AA meeting. As a chemical dependency counselor, I include it with the “toolbox” often used by newly–recovering people to maintain their sobriety.

When my hard drive died, it took with it ten years of business and personal files and data. Like most people, I had not backed up my data. For several days, it was unclear if the data could be retrieved. To me, this fell in the category of total loss of control. Experts on stress say that most bad stress has a strong correlation to events in our lives over which we feel we have no control.

So, how can the Serenity Prayer be used in stress management? Well, if we break it down, the first line is about loss of control - “accept the things I cannot change (control).” Traffic, the boss’s mood, illness, the weather, etc. are all things that are usually not within our control. The second line refers to things that we recognize as being within our control; things in our lives that we can impact – “courage to change the things I can.” Making changes does require courage! But it’s also very empowering.

The third part of the Serenity Prayer exemplifies the key to managing our stress – “and wisdom to know the difference.” Realizing what aspects of our lives over which we have no control is a very hard lesson. Most of our stress arises from continually trying to control or impact those things that we have very little or no power to change.

How did I apply this stress management tool to my recent PC disaster? I realized I had no control over the hard drive crashing. I did, however, recognize that I could try to impact the situation by finding a data recovery service to retrieve my data. They were able to retrieve about 90% of what I thought was lost. And I bought an external hard drive to back up my data!


  1. If we could live our lives by the Serenity Prayer, how much happier we would all be. I've know of this saying for most of my life but I didn't know that was what it was called.

  2. Stress management is quite a complicated process...yet you've simplified it well...

    But Do you really think that stress can be controlled or managed with a prayer alone?

    I feel, that the change that we need to initiate to combat stress is so much more than serenity prayer.

    This serenity could be the outcome of the stress management but cannot be the way to achieve it.

    Its not a perfect solution because it can't be applied to all situations......

  3. Hi Millika:

    Thank you for your comments. You make some very valid points.

    My intent was to use the Serenity Prayer to illustrate a way to approach stress. In no way was I implying that invoking this prayer would solve all stressful situations or that addressing stress is a simple process. I'm suggesting that it could be one of many tools or coping strategies.

    I've found when working with patients who are experiencing high levels of stress and/or anxiety often streamlined, structured exercises work the best.

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond.

    Best Regards,
    Nancy L., LISW, LICDC

  4. This post has led me to reflect on stress management in my own life, which is in a bit of turmoil at the moment. With your permission, I'm going to save this post to my hard drive (backed up, of course! *wink*) and reread it when I'm feeling particularly frazzled.

    In other news, I'm glad you were able to recover so much of your data!

  5. Yikes! This post reminds me that I need to back up everything important on my computer!

    What a pain in the neck this must have been for you. You were fortunate to find a service to retrieve most of it. I did not know there were such services.

  6. Nicole - you're welcome to save the post and review it later. Meanwhile take a deep breath and relax!

    anonymous - Yes, it nudged my guilty conscience too. I've been meaning to buy a zip drive to do backups as I get lazy with having to use several CDs to do my backups. Not a good excuse!

  7. I am so glad you got ninety percent back. Yay, Talia!

    When I've lost disks and have hard drives blow up I always take a deep breath, think of the Buddha and remind myself that life is suffering...because I have attachments. Ha ha.


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