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by Margaret Fiero
In my last blog entry, I proposed the idea of counterintuitively accepting one’s anxiety. It sounds interesting, but how does it work? Is it one of those things that just sounds good in theory but doesn’t really function in practice? As I am still just a student of counseling, I can’t answer those questions definitively, but I can put forth what others more qualified than myself have written on the topic.
The types of therapy that encourage enmeshment with or mindfulness of one’s own distressing thoughts, sensations, and personal experiences are relatively recent. Examples include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness, and third generation psychotherapies. For the purpose of this blog entry, I will focus on ACT (pronounced as the word, not an acronym). The major goals of ACT are fostering acceptance of problematic and counterproductive thoughts and feelings that cannot – and perhaps need not – be controlled, and fostering commitment and action toward living a life according to one’s chosen values. In this sense, ACT facilitates acceptance and change simultaneously.
The ACT philosophy entails embracing our own ways of thinking, no matter how flawed they may be, in an attempt to accept ourselves without judgment and reduce experiential avoidance. Through limiting emotional suppression, ACT also promotes psychological flexibility, as well as adaptive response-focused thoughts and feelings. I find it a refreshing idea that rather than wrestling with your thoughts in moments of anxiety and anguish, you can say, “This anxiety is natural, and it is part of me. I’m going to accept it, just as I am going to accept myself,” and then move on. I feel this idea is best embodied in thought observation. After learning about ACT, now when I have anxious or otherwise disturbing thoughts, I think, “That’s an interesting thought, and that’s all it is, a thought – it doesn’t define me.” I then let it pass. It’s amazing how liberating such a simple technique can be. In the past, I may have let one anxious thought lead me down a path of more and more anxious thoughts – and often this occurred because I was thinking that I should not be anxious.
As humans, we have innumerable thoughts, and while it’s true that the way we think makes up who we are, an isolated thought does not define us. We are more than the sum of our thoughts; we must be, as many of our thoughts are contradictory. ACT seems to offer an interesting and innovative approach to anxiety relief that I hope is explored more by clinicians in the future. Click here to read more detailed information on ACT. If you feel that you need help with anxiety or would like additional information, you can make a counseling appointment or read more about anxiety counseling.