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anxiety comes from trying too hard to control the future. Writing for therapy.

My experience of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

I’m writing this post to talk about the therapy I’ve started since my depression resurfaced a few months back. It’s a form of therapy I hadn’t been aware of before; Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. What does it all mean? In essence it means recognising that we go through periods of suffering, and we can learn to embrace it. Letting ourselves be, however we find ourselves. Whether it be wracked with anxiety, filled with despair or overwhelmed with sadness.

These feelings are all difficult, but that’s what they are. They are emotional responses to a situation we find ourselves in. Emotions are not always rational. Sometimes they can creep up on us and we’re not aware we’re experiencing them. Or we try to bury them and put on a brave face. That is something I often find myself doing. In my session with my therapist this week, I felt pretty emotional. In my teary state, I revealed to my therapist how I felt like a failure and a ‘snowflake.’

In our sessions, we have been talking about the three segments of ourselves. Firstly, the active part, which drives and motivates us.  Secondly, the defensive part that senses threat and makes us prepare to fight or flee. Lastly, the soothing part, that attempts to calm and show us compassion. I have a pretty hard time tapping into my compassionate self. My inner critic chastises me. Tells me to quit moping and get on with things.

Facing our inner demons

Whilst I appreciate life has to go on, it seems like ‘running away’ from our feelings means that inevitably they’ll catch up with us.  When they do, they bring us down and chip away at the protective walls we have built up. The seemingly quiet confidence and self-assured nature we normally possess cracks and leaves us open and vulnerable. Other people may show compassion towards us, but if we can’t offer it to ourselves, we just end up tearing us down.

This self-destructive pattern almost becomes a habit. Habits lead to behavioural changes. When our behaviour changes, our world perspective alters and we end up feeling miserable. That’s not to say we need to be never-endingly optimistic. That goes against our evolution and survival instinct. Primitive man had to hunt, defend and shelter from the elements. He also needed to reproduce.

Those 4 things; food, shelter, protection and sex, are the blocks on which our life is based. Hence, our predecessors had to be on the look-out for danger. A predator had to be run away from or fought off. Our prey had to be caught to give us sustenance. We needed somewhere safe to rest and recuperate. And we had to continue the species.

If we are always positive we may not heed the risks that befall us. Having fear and anxiety makes us realistic rather than just necessarily a ‘negative Nancy.’ The problem occurs when our heightened threat response remains permanently switched on. We burn all our energy fretting and ruminating. Sometimes over eventualities that may not even happen! Emotional responses blur our perspective and give us tunnel vision.

It will all pass

When we find ourselves in a blind panic or flooded with sadness, we need to divert our minds to a place we can feel secure. Then we need to just breathe. Take in air over a count of four, pause, before exhaling over a subsequent slow count of four. This has a calming effect, and helps soothe our heightened emotional response.

Visualisation techniques can help to ground us and return us to the moment. It’s not just about mindfulness though. It’s about recognising the feeling we are experiencing and enabling it to just exist in that time. Acknowledge it, but don’t invite it to linger any longer than necessary.

The Australian Medical Practitioner, Psychoherapist and Life Coach Dr Russ Harris has a whole YouTube channel dedicated to the teachings and theory behind Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. One particular video, The Struggle Switch, talks about how we sense a difficult or painful emotion (say, anxiety), and we try to subdue it. This leads us to feel anger that the anxiety bothers us so much, then sadness as we feel overwhelmed. Finally we feel guilty for feeling anxious when other people have seemingly worse problems. All this does, is create a large stick for us to beat ourselves with.

I often find myself in the situation where I struggle with a feeling. It’s not a comfortable ride. And it’s exhausting. When we turn the Struggle Switch off, we don’t waste our time and energy on the emotion or feeling. This frees us up to spend our time with people we care about and doing things we enjoy. Also, it gives the feeling of anxiety room to move. So it will be there for a short time, and then pass.

Accepting leads to freedom

We all want freedom from our negative thoughts and feelings. By accepting them, and letting them sit with us temporarily, we give ourselves the gift of freedom. This is my challenge for the next couple of months. I am tired of struggling with my anxiety, frustration, guilt and all those other draining emotions. I want to feel released from their shackles.

Another You Tube video I saw recently by Steven Hayes talked about applying mental brakes to avoid mental breaks. For instance, if we have an intrusive thought like, “I’m so stupid!” we ought to stop ourselves. At this point, we need to quickly repeat a random word fast over 20-30 seconds. This gives the negative thought time to diffuse. And then we can move on. It sounds so simple, and in a way it is. The hard part is putting it into practice on a recurring basis to counter that internal negative self-talk.

If you’re currently suffering with Anxiety and or Depression, I recommend taking a look at Acceptance and Commitment Therapy practices.

Thanks for reading this post 🙂


Featured image is taken courtesy of Flickr.

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