Written by Carla Alpert
ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Personally I would describe it as a cross between traditional psychotherapy and life coaching. According to Wikipedia, ACT is a form of psychotherapy commonly described as a form of cognitive-behavior therapy or of clinical behavior analysis.
The therapy is based on mindfulness practices and uses commitment and behavior strategies to increase flexibility overall. The understanding starts with getting to the root of your values. This includes how you would like to show up in all aspects of your life such as relationships, spirituality, parenting and health to name a few.
The goal is to live by your values and show up in each aspect, regardless of what presents itself at any given moment. All of this takes place with the understanding that our brain pulls us in constantly to anticipatory perceptions, distracting and sometimes fear-based thoughts. At these times, ACT teaches us to observe, notice and then return to the present moment. Thoughts are just thoughts after all.
In other words, ACCEPT whatever shows up and COMMIT to being present through the experience, even if that means sitting in discomfort. Ultimately your values brought you to your experience so you want to show up for it even if that means you also brought along your anxiety.
To understand, let's use a health related issue for an example. You've been dealing with a lot of unpredictable GI distress, such as periodic painful cramping, gas or sudden bowel issues, but you have dinner plans with for your friends birthday coming up on Saturday night. Your anxiety level is through the roof because you have fear of the unknown. What happens if it comes on mid dinner? What if I have to excuse myself and find a bathroom quickly? What is there is only one stall in the restaurant and someone else is in there? What if I have to go to the bathroom several times during the dinner? What if a friend notices my face cringing in pain until I can get out of there?
You consider not going because you know you might feel fine when you're on your way, but in the middle of the dinner celebration, you could start feeling GI distress coming on. This sets off your anxiety for several reasons.
You begin to judge yourself about what you could have done to avoid this (even though you have no clue why it's happening).
You KNEW you shouldn't have gone!
Your mind pulls you into what an embarrassment you are and how it's all your fault.
You have to leave the table and find a bathroom at the most inopportune time.
Everyone is going to notice how you left and wonder why.
Then you don't want anyone to hear you in the bathroom.
You start anticipating how your friends will start questioning you and then the shame and embarrassment creeps in.
So what do you do? YOU DON'T GO!
It is in examples just like this, that ACT helps you to show up regardless of what your mind anticipates.
What would happen if you first thought of your values when it comes to friendships and how you want to show up as a friend instead. Maybe you could show up accepting that you can never predict or control anything in life, and regardless of what might show up, you commit to going because celebrating with loved ones brings you great joy. You know that every restaurant does have a bathroom and if you spend the night in there, so be it. You understand you can easily excuse yourself if you need to—and that would simply be that. No self-judgements and no judgements from friends.
You did the best you could and that's really all any of us can do.
ACT is extremely helpful for managing anxiety, fear, physical pain and simply moving forward in life with every part of you.