ACT Against Anxiety: Finding Peace Through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
The moment that judgment stops through acceptance of what it is, you are free of the mind. You have made room for love, for joy, for peace. – Eckhart Tolle
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.– Lao Tzu
My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectations. – Michael J. Fox
Acceptance is often a necessary process for creating change and reducing suffering. It is a fundamental piece of several proven therapies. Some include Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), developed by Marsha Linehan, PhD., Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy).
What Is Acceptance?
Acceptance seems like a simple concept, but for many, it can become a struggle. Marsha Linehan, creator of DBT, offers some ideas about acceptance. First, she clarifies that acceptance does not mean approval or disapproval of what is being accepted. It means acknowledging intentionally without using the label “good” or “bad”.
She also believes that to accept, one must recognize their willingness or non-acceptance. One way to recognize non-acceptance is to listen to your inner dialogue. If you hear sarcasm or statements implying what should or ought to be different about someone else, a circumstance, or yourself, you are likely in a state of non-acceptance.
If you notice these non-acceptance thoughts, do so gently with curiosity and compassion. In other words, accept your non-acceptance. This will allow space to notice your thoughts and decide if you want to work toward change.
You could also try recognizing acceptance as a state of being and a process instead of a skill that can be achieved overnight. Linehan suggests to radically accept something; you must practice turning the mind over and over.
Acceptance of one’s thoughts, emotions, circumstances, and other people seems like a lot of work, and it is. However, it offers freedom from the suffering that comes with non-acceptance, making it worth the effort.
What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?
Building on this profound understanding of acceptance, we introduce you to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a dynamic and empowering form of therapy. ACT isn’t just a method of coping; it’s a journey towards embracing life in its entirety, with all its ups and downs. It teaches us how to live fully and meaningfully, even amidst pain and suffering.
At the heart of ACT is the art of embracing your thoughts and feelings rather than fighting them, while committing to actions that align with your values. This approach fosters a unique kind of psychological flexibility – a powerful tool in the quest for mental health and well-being.
ACT isn’t just another therapy; it’s a revolutionary approach that combines acceptance strategies with commitment and behavior-change techniques, leading to greater psychological flexibility.
As we delve deeper into the transformative world of ACT, it’s essential to understand the very thing ACT aims to help us navigate: anxiety. This section takes a closer look at anxiety, a common but often misunderstood aspect of human experience, and how ACT’s unique approach can offer effective treatment.
Anxiety is more than just a fleeting feeling; it’s a complex emotion that encompasses a range of physical and emotional sensations. From the tightness in your chest to the whirlwind of worrisome thoughts, anxiety manifests in various forms, impacting our daily life and overall health. It can show up as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, or even panic attacks, each bringing its challenges.
Despite its commonality, anxiety’s impact is deeply personal, manifesting uniquely in each of us. This diversity in experience calls for a flexible and adaptive approach to treatment – and that’s exactly where ACT shines. ACT doesn’t just address the symptoms; it dives into the heart of anxiety, helping individuals understand and transform their relationship with distressing emotions and thoughts.
Steven C. Hayes, one of the pioneers of ACT, emphasizes the importance of embracing our internal experiences, including anxiety, as part of the human experience. This acceptance doesn’t mean giving up control but rather shifting our approach to behavior change. By practicing acceptance skills, engaging in mindfulness techniques, and committing to actions aligned with our deepest values, we can enhance our quality of life, even in the face of anxiety.
Core Processes of ACT in Managing Anxiety
After understanding the multifaceted nature of anxiety, let’s dive into how ACT offers a therapeutic approach to managing it. ACT involves six core processes: Cognitive Defusion, Acceptance, Present Moment, Self as Context, Values, and Committed Action. Each of these plays a crucial role in transforming our relationship with anxiety.
- Cognitive Defusion: This helps us see our thoughts as mere words, not truths. For example, someone with social anxiety learns to view their fears as passing thoughts, lessening their impact.
- Acceptance: We learn to embrace emotions and sensations without trying to control them. A person with panic disorder might practice acceptance during an attack, acknowledging their anxious feelings without judgment.
- Present Moment: This involves focusing on the here and now, using mindfulness exercises like breathing techniques, especially helpful for generalized anxiety disorder.
- Self as Context: Individuals understand they are more than their thoughts or feelings. Someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder may find relief in knowing their value extends beyond their compulsions.
- Values: Identifying personal values guides individuals to actions aligned with these values. For example, prioritizing family can lead to behaviors that foster closer relationships, despite anxiety.
- Committed Action: This entails setting goals based on personal values and acting on them. For someone with substance abuse, this might mean attending support groups regularly.
These processes show how ACT can be applied to reduce anxiety in different scenarios. For someone with social phobia, practicing these ACT processes can make navigating social situations less anxiety-inducing, enhancing their quality of life.
As we move forward, we’ll explore the challenges in practicing ACT and how to overcome them, essential for anyone looking to adopt ACT as a means to a more fulfilling, values-driven life.
Overcoming Challenges in ACT
Having explored the core processes of ACT, it’s important to address the challenges and misconceptions that can arise when practicing this therapeutic approach.
A frequent misunderstanding is about the concept of acceptance. In ACT, acceptance doesn’t mean giving up; it’s about embracing our experiences and feelings without judgment, while still committing to actions that align with our personal values.
Another challenge is mastering cognitive defusion – the skill of distancing ourselves from our thoughts and seeing them as just thoughts, not absolute truths. This can be especially tough in deep-rooted anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder or social phobia.
Practicing mindfulness regularly is also a common hurdle. Incorporating mindfulness exercises into a busy daily routine and using them effectively during stressful situations requires consistent effort.
The key to overcoming these challenges is patience and persistence. Starting with small, manageable goals and gradually increasing the complexity of exercises can be helpful. Therapy sessions also offer a supportive space to practice and understand these skills better.
Overcoming the challenges in ACT is an essential part of the journey towards managing anxiety and living a fulfilling life. In our next section, we’ll discuss how our therapists can assist in this journey, offering personalized support to help you master ACT and thrive.
How Counseling Associates for Well-Being Can Help
As we wrap up our exploration of ACT, let’s introduce you to our dedicated team of therapists who are skilled in this effective therapeutic approach.
Our therapists are not only trained in traditional cognitive-behavioral therapies but also the unique techniques of ACT, including mindfulness exercises, cognitive defusion, and values-based action. They understand the impact of anxiety on daily life and are committed to helping clients navigate these difficult emotions and situations with compassion and expertise.
Using ACT as a tool to combat anxiety isn’t about fighting these feelings; it’s about changing our relationship with them. Imagine learning to navigate your anxiety, not by suppressing or battling it, but by acknowledging its presence and moving forward with your life in a meaningful way. This shift in perspective can be life-changing.
Scheduling a session with our therapists is easy and flexible, with options like individual therapy and couples counseling. What makes our team stand out is their commitment to understanding each client’s unique experiences and guiding them toward meaningful behavioral changes and emotional regulation.
If you’d like to learn more about acceptance to reduce suffering and make space for change, please contact me. I can be reached at 706-425-8900 ext .703 or [email protected]
Offering Services in Athens, East Cobb/Marietta, Smyrna/Vinings, & via telehealth throughout Georgia
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Post Update: The article was updated on December 10th, 2023, originally published on June 15th, 2014. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.