Are You Ready To ACT on Your Anxiety?
Are You Ready To ACT on Your Anxiety?
Try Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Does the feeling that you aren't in control of your life ever seem overwhelming? You're not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 30% of all Americans suffer from anxiety. Treating anxiety has historically focused on managing symptoms through medications or forms of therapy that teach patients to master their accelerated heart rate, sweaty palms, and inexplicable fears. But what if a more effective approach required you to run toward that sense of danger rather than away from it? What if someone showed you that embracing your anxiety, your lack of control, and your emotional pain could spur you to start living in the present and change your life? All you have to do is ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a creative, individualized mindfulness-based behavioral therapy that is clinically effective in treating depression, anxiety, OCD, workplace stress, PTSD, and chronic pain.
Something I like to tell my patients about ACT is that it was actually developed more than thirty years ago by Stephen C. Hayes, PhD, a psychologist and researcher who had experienced crippling panic attacks and wanted to find a way to face them rather than avoid them. He now trains a new generation of therapists to use mindfulness, acceptance and values-based methods.
Acceptance and mindfulness allow people to learn how to adapt and respond to the inevitable stressors of life. Our goal is to help each individual create a full and meaningful life, while accepting that pain and difficulty are part of every human's experience.
Six Core Principles guide the process of ACT:
- Defusion - The next step uses guided scripts or meditations to teach people cognitive defusion, or how to distinguish between objective experiences and perceived realities. In other words, feelings are feelings, thoughts are thoughts, and they may not be as foreboding or threatening as we can make them out to be. Defusion is the practice of looking at thoughts rather than through them.
- Acceptance - The first core step is about creating space to accept and expand feelings and emotions, as well as habits or tendencies that we might try to avoid or push down.
- Being Present - The third step uses physical exercises to continue building awareness of feelings and focuses on connecting with the present in the literal “now”. It can help ground us in the moment and remove the tendency to dwell on the past or obsess about the future.
- Observing The Self - The fourth step moves from awareness of the body and mind to the greater realization that thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions are constantly changing. When someone is feeling anxious, it may seem as if that feeling will last forever, but through awareness and observation, we learn that uncomfortable feelings can and will pass.
- Clarifying Values - The fifth step involves identifying personal values and choosing to live consciously according to those principles rather than succumbing to other people’s expectations.
- Committed Action - The final step in ACT is to commit to the life you want by literally taking action, or defining steps and setting a course of action that leads to achieving goals based on personal values. For example, deliberately exposing yourself to a stressful situation, learning a new skill, or setting goals.
One simple ACT exercise to bring awareness to the present moment is called the Five Senses Exercise. It is about slowing down and noticing without judging. First, take a deep breath in slowly and exhale just as slowly. Then,
- Name five things you see.
- Name four things you can feel.
- Name three things you can hear.
- Name two things you can smell.
- Name one thing you can taste.
Try practicing this anytime your thoughts are running away from you to bring you back into the present moment. Or, reach out to one of our counselors to find a safe space where you can learn the tools to help you find peace in the present moment.
About Elizabeth Grady
Liz has been counseling adolescents, adults, and families for eighteen years in the Triangle region of North Carolina. Liz earned her master’s degree in Counseling from North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2002 and has been a practicing counselor since that time. Recently Liz earned her Doctorate degree (Ph.D.) in Counselor Education from NCSU and now teaches masters-level counseling students at Northwestern University.Meet Me