Using the Serenity Prayer to Reduce Stress

According to Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist, there has been a huge surge in depression, suicidality, and anxiety during the pandemic. Everyone has heard the Serenity Prayer, but how do we use the serenity prayer to reduce stress?

the serenity prayer

The Serenity Prayer is a driving force in the world of recovering from addiction. Yet, the actual meaning behind the prayer has nothing to do with addiction at all. It was written as an ode to developing deeper insight and initiating self-improvement. The prayer is credited to Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian. Niebuhr used the prayer in a sermon he gave in Heath, Massachusetts in 1943.

The purpose of this prayer is to bring peace and certainty to the heart and mind of people seeking support. This phrase is so simple, and yet so powerful and you do not have to be religious to benefit from its powerful message.

You can break the serenity prayer into 3 main thoughts :

  • Accept the things I cannot change
  • Courage to change the things I can
  • Wisdom to know the difference

When you look a little deeper into each, you might realize that you can use these concepts in your daily life.

Identifying What You Cannot Control


What they think; Their minds; Things they say; What they do; Things they feel; Whether they like you or love you; Their opinion of you; You changing someone else; Other people’s happiness, sadness or success; If they wrong you; Pleasing everyone; What your children do (as kids and adults).


Regrets; Life being fair; Pandemics; The past; Your age; Time; Genetics; The economy and the government; Death; Weather; Some illnesses; Natural disasters; Accidents; Traffic and that includes the idiot who cut you off this morning on the freeway; Your boss and annoying co-workers; Avoiding pain in life; Change; Your height; skin color or looks; Aging; Family,


How long it will take to get it under control; The number of people that will be affected one way or another; Amount of deaths; When businesses will re-open; How long until you will go back to work; When the shelter in place orders will be removed; The opening of concerts; football games and other gatherings.

Identifying What You Can Control


Who you will be when “life happens”; Your mindset; The thoughts in your head; Actions you take; The way you behave; How you interpret situations; Your reactions to people; places and things; How you treat your children; Choices you make; Decisions you make; Your attitude; Changing yourself; How you deal with failure; Your honesty level (both with yourself and others); How you deal with your feelings; Being kind; compassionate and helpful; The way you treat yourself; Being negative or positive; How much you love yourself; When and if you ask for help.


The activities you choose to engage in; How you manage stress; Your development and personal growth; The life you choose to live; Your future; Your perception of life; The life choices you make; People you choose to let into your life; What risks you take; Your success in life; How much effort you put into getting what you want; The amount of time you spend worrying; How well you prepare for bad weather, traffic, etc; Honing the ability to let go; Acceptance; How much you think about your past; Your creativity; Your communication and intimacy skills.


What you do with your time while stuck at home –whether it is constructive and self-supportive; The ways you protect yourself from infection; How you concern yourself with protecting others from infection; Your attitude and mindset; The way deal with your emotions; How you are supportive to others; Making the best out of a horrible situation.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

There’s a lot of emotional and mental turmoil that comes with  attempting to fix situations that you can’t actually fix or worse yet worrying about things you cannot control. Focusing on trying to change things you cannot is just spinning your wheels and elevating stress levels unnecessarily. 

THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE is Identifying whether you have control over any given situation, person or thing.

When you encounter a problem in your own life, take the time to assess what part of it if any is within your control. By analyzing events for what they are rather than how we perceive them, we can better identify what’s actually in our control and what’s not.

Shift your perspective and see an event from another point of view -The point of view that actually might not have anything to do with you.

Rather than allowing an event or an experience to overwhelm you when you’re essentially powerless, you can take a step back and realize it’s out of your control. 

What’s the sense of overwhelming yourself with something that you really can’t do anything about?


It demonstrates an impressive amount of strength and wisdom to be able to admit that something is beyond your control and then leave it behind.

Your Role When Facing a Problem

your role when fixing a problem

There are three types of people when it comes to responding to problems.

There’s the “runner,” who immediately senses danger and is gone before they can even look at the situation and see what’s really going on.

There’s the “fixer,” who immediately approaches the situation and works to find logical solutions to permanently fix the issue.

The “identifier” is the final type of person. Rather than fleeing the scene or attempting to fix the problem, they first take a step back and look at the situation with an unobstructed view. They learn about the specifics of the situation, who it involves, the events that may have occurred, and then form an opinion or an action plan based on all of this information. This is the type of person you should strive to be.

Think about how you can apply this to your own life. It might help to take a minute (or even 30) to think about a situation or a problem before allowing yourself to react to it. You’ll have a much more level-headed response by doing so!

Using the Serenity Prayer to Reduce Stress

identify what you can and cannot change

A lot of times in life, we find ourselves caught up in our own stress and drama that we forget that not everything actually involves us. Using the serenity prayer can help to reduce that stress that we put on ourselves. As human beings, it’s normal to be innately selfish and always connect events and feelings back to ourselves.

When you think about the Serenity Prayer, there are two major concepts:

What you can change and what you can’t change.

By analyzing events for what they are rather than how we perceive them, we can better identify what’s actually in our control and what’s not.

In a sense, it forces you to shift your perspective and see an event from another point of view – The point of view that actually might not have anything to do with you.

Focusing on Acceptance

There’s no doubt that life is loaded with stress and anxiety around every curve. And sometimes, there’s just not much you can do about it other than waiting it out and letting it run its course.

“The serenity to accept the things I cannot change” is huge when it comes to developing a sense of acceptance. Rather than allowing an event or an experience to overwhelm you when you’re essentially powerless, you can take a step back and realize it’s out of your control.

Shifting Towards a Positive Mindset

A quick read-through of the Serenity Prayer might give you an initial impression that you should be avoiding accountability and deflecting blame elsewhere. Yet, a little more focus will eventually allow you to realize that it’s about maintaining a positive mindset.

Let’s break down how you can use each aspect to build positivity.

  • The serenity to accept the things I cannot change. You can first take a look at a situation and evaluate it from your own perspective. Is there anything you can reasonably do about it? If not, don’t force it and just move on.
  • The courage to change the things I can. Now that you’ve realized you are involved and that there is something you can do about it, it’s time to take action. Take the necessary approach to either “right your wrongs” or fix the situation.
  • The wisdom to know the difference. Leaving the situation and fixing the situation aren’t the hard parts. Actually, knowing whether you have a role in it will be the hardest. So, focus on looking at the situation from several perspectives and see if you can do anything about it.

We hope this information will be ways that you use the serenity prayer to reduce stress in your everyday life. Your thoughts and comments are welcome below!

serenity prayer

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