Want to avoid getting bogged into the quagmire of Anxiety and Depression ?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can help and its easy !
I don’t know about you, but I think that sometimes I am turning into a grumpy old woman. I seem to get cross at minor obstacles such as trying to talk to Telstra when Im busy , and they leave me on hold for 30 minutes and then they hang up ! Aren’t they supposed to be a communication company !? Ironic hey ?
I get annoyed that when I want to purchase something online , they insist on gathering all this unnecessary data before they let me buy it. Including setting up an account with them ! I only wanted to buy an eyeliner , its infuriating !! Insurance companies who put incredibly tiny caveats and clauses when you take out a policy that immediately obstructs you from being eligible for a claim. Websites that take job applications and want ALL your ID including your date of birth and a copy of your birth certificate , this is ALL BEFORE they will consider you for a position !?
Then there are of course more serious issues like children getting sick, mental ill health , conflicts in families , instability in work and living arrangements , debt, and crises. This is when we go from frustration and anger to full blown catastrophizing !
We find that life is an always changing and throwing these curved balls at all. From the small stuff like tax issues and broken-down cars to death and tragedy. Learning to cope with this is imperative. However we look at it , the truth is we can’t bury our heads in the sand and must deal with it . Whether we come at it kicking and screaming or with a calm Buddhist like air of acceptance , we STILL HAVE TO GO THROUGH IT . So, I guess this begs the question , do you want to be a screaming banshee, or do you want to be like Buddha ? Hmmm… Banshee or Buddha ? interesting choice eh ?
This is where ACT can sweep in to save the day , if you decide to take the Buddha option. Its a cool one !
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a therapeutic approach that focuses on acceptance, mindfulness, and commitment to behaviour change. Its not a therapy that is talked about a lot like CBT is, because it doesn’t have the same amount of evidence backing it as CBT , however some of the strategies used In CBT overlap to a degree with ACT and vice versa.
Most counsellors will use a combination of theories and techniques in their practice as each client is individual and will respond to different strategies. Deciding what will work for our clients takes time, energy and trial and error.
As I have studied the various therapy types I have noticed that they all seem to be a branch of the same tree and to a degree have the same psychoeducational roots . This is often due to knew awareness from psychological research . The language used for each new “ therapy’ is often different, but the essence is often the same.
The main purpose of ACT is to create a degree of resilience in the individual, by way of accepting change is inevitable and thus being “adaptive” is the best state to attain as we navigate our messy life . This reduces the amount of stress and worry that accompanies obstacles and issues in our lives.
It is designed to help individuals develop psychological flexibility and in doing so improve their overall well-being. Here are some basic principles and exercises to get started with ACT:
- Understanding Psychological Flexibility:
Psychological flexibility is the core concept in ACT. It involves being open, adaptable, and able to act in accordance with your values, even in the presence of difficult thoughts and emotions.
The Hexaflex Model:
– The Hexaflex Model is a visual representation of the six core processes in ACT.
– Cognitive DEFUSION : Learning to observe thoughts without being dominated by them.
– Acceptance: Allowing and making room for uncomfortable emotions and sensations.
– Present Moment Awareness (Mindfulness): Being fully present in the moment.
– Self-as-Context: Recognizing the ever-changing nature of oneself.
– Values: Clarifying what is truly important and meaningful in life.
– Committed Action: Setting and working towards goals in alignment with values.
- Mindfulness Exercises:
– Practice mindfulness to increase present moment awareness. You can start with simple exercises like mindful breathing or body scan meditations. Focus on observing your thoughts without judgment.
- Cognitive Defusion Techniques:
– Cognitive diffusion involves distancing yourself from your thoughts. Try techniques like “thought labelling” where you observe a thought and simply label it without getting entangled in its content. This is kind of what we do in CBT too. Recognise the thought and do not allow it to escalate to more catastrophic thoughts that spiral down and down ,until you are seemingly in such a state ,you might as well leap off the mortal coil.
- Acceptance Strategies:
– Practice accepting your emotions and sensations without judgment. Instead of trying to control or eliminate them, acknowledge their presence. Don’t berate or shame yourself for having those thoughts either . You can use phrases like “I am having the thought/feeling that…” Its not me being my usual sad sack miserable victim self , its that nasty anxiety again.
I sometimes say to my clients recognise Debbie Downer on your shoulder telling you the negative stuff . Making sure she knows that you know she is just trying to bring you down and you are not going to believe her rubbish. Thoughts are not powerful unless you decide to give them that power . They are only fleeting, and you do not have to act on them . Let them pass.
- 6. Clarifying Values:
– Reflect on your core values and what truly matters to you in life. What do you want to stand for? Consider your values in different areas such as relationships, work, health, and personal growth. So, for example , I do a values exercise with my clients . I give them a bunch of value cards and they pick out their most favourite and then we attach that value to how they show it in their life. How they live it daily .
Recognising values by bringing them to our conscious awareness and focusing on them , can help to sort out what is meaningful and the direction you need to go in to make that value come alive in your life. What does it mean for me to be kind in my life and how do I know when I’ve applied that ?
- Setting Committed Goals:
– Define specific, meaningful goals that align with your values. These goals should be realistic and achievable. Break them down into smaller, manageable steps. There are a lot of goal-based templates out there , you can google them. I use SMART with my clients which means , Specific , Measurable , Achievable , Realistic and Time limited . Very easy to follow.
- The Importance of Language:
– Pay attention to the language you use. ACT emphasizes the power of language in shaping our experiences. Notice how your thoughts influence your feelings and behaviours. As with CBT it important to make sure that the words you are using are realistic, evidence based and supportive . Words to our brain are very powerful and if you are telling yourself “ I am a failure, I am useless and I can’t get anything right” your mind will believe it , even if its far from the truth. Make sure you are gentle with what you feed it and ensure that you are not abusing yourself. A childhood of being bullied by family and kids at school can see us take on their mantra and bully ourselves as we grow up. We take off where they left off. Time to get yourself off that self-limiting and emotionally abusive treadmill.
- Daily Mindfulness Practice:
– Integrate mindfulness into your daily routine. It could be as simple as taking a few mindful breaths during daily activities or engaging in a short mindfulness exercise each day. Look to what works for you , when are you the most calm and peaceful ? Listening to music , taking your dog for a walk ?
– Develop a compassionate attitude towards yourself. Treat yourself with kindness, especially when facing challenges. Remember that struggling is a part of the human experience. As I mentioned earlier , you have to take care of your inner dialogue . Be aware of your voice and what it says to you. Be your own best friend. What would I say to a friend who was going through this now ?
- ACT Worksheets and Resources:
– Utilize ACT worksheets and resources available online. These resources can guide you through various exercises and processes to enhance your understanding and application of ACT principles.
Remember that ACT is a flexible and evolving process. It’s about building a more meaningful life by becoming more aware of your thoughts and emotions and taking purposeful action. If you find it challenging to practice ACT on your own, consider seeking support from a qualified mental health professional who is trained in ACT.
Be kind to your mind ! You are so worth it !