I had the opportunity this week to practice what I preach and personally use a lot of the skills from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
One of the great things about ACT is that it’s incredibly flexible and can be applied to all sorts of life’s situations and challenges. Issues that it can help with are managing anger in relationships, obsessive or excessive thinking, trauma, compulsive urges to engage in unwanted behaviours, procrastination, low mood, lack of purpose, anxiety, etc.
It really is a very varied and effective approach.
I thought it might be handy to do a quick run through of a real life example of how I used the ACT framework this week.
So, I was feeling low last Sunday and by Monday I was decidedly dodgy and thought I should probably test as we have a new addition to our household. The test was positive. COVID had reared its ugly head once more and that evening, my new daughter started to get ill too.
This was quite worrying and I noticed my mind racing off to disaster scenarios. Despite being ill, I was hoping to be present to help with my daughter, but the doctors told us that the best thing I could do for her safety was to stay away. So, I’ve been in isolation again this week, whilst my wife coped with the baby at home.
Here’s how I´ve used the core principles of ACT to help me (and hopefully my family a bit!) whilst isolating again!
Staying present in the here and now - There were many times where my mind raced away to doomsday or “if only” scenarios. Following these wouldn’t have helped and just generated more distress. Using skills I’ve practiced in the past, I was able to mostly keep present which helped me minimise any catastrophisation when it started.
Observing thoughts and feelings rather than attaching to them - I had many feelings of guilt, worry, frustration, etc and by taking observer stance, I could see that it’s just what I was feeling at the time and not “me” which allowed these moments to pass more easily.
Accepting thoughts and feelings - Even when uncomfortable thoughts and feelings about my powerlessness or anxiety around missing this time with my new family came up, I did not wrestle with them or try push them away. I acknowledged and accepted them, rather than take an opportunity to ramp them up.
Defusing from thoughts and feelings - Sometimes there were thoughts that came up that stuck in my brain for a bit longer or feelings which were more distressing which generated more discomfort. I particularly noticed my inner critic getting noisy about what I may have done to bring the COVID into the house. By using different techniques to detach or unhook from these unhelpful thoughts, I was then able to connect with other things rather than needlessly beat myself up.
Taking committed action to do what’s important - So, if I felt up to work, I did. Whatever I could do to help around the house, I did and when I felt I needed rest, I took it.
It’s a pretty simple framework and very easy to apply. It just takes a bit of practice and awareness to fine tune all the steps.
The aim is not to push away or deny anything that’s happening to you, but to develop an acceptance around the way things are. Then you take whatever action you can to move towards what’s important to you.
Whilst it thankfully wasn’t too serious in the end, it was definitely a challenging week and even more so for my wife. Integrating the ACT approach really helped me regulate my physical and mental state this week, which I know will have had a positive effect on the family even through the walls or behind the mask!
If you’re interested in learning more about ACT and how it might help you live a more fulfilling, connected life, please get in touch.