ACT for Treating Anxiety

As a longtime anxiety sufferer, I had not had much success until I found ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) while in an outpatient program. This is what I learned in weeks of therapy about ACT and how it has helped me greatly. I hope it can help you or a loved one too.

Read below for my (non-clinical) overview of ACT and if it resonates with you I highly recommend contacting a mental health professional to get started – it just may change your life!

Overview

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is predicated on being mindful of anxiety and actively living with it, not fighting it. Sounds easy enough, right?

Accepting anxiety can be profoundly difficult and challenging because it requires you surrender yourself to being uncomfortable, and who wants to do that? Take something you hate or fear and move towards it. As you expose yourself to the unwanted or feared your amygdala fires away, sending signals to your body that there is a threat and you should run from it or fight it – “fight or flight.” As a result, you may experience sweaty palms, racing heart, pounding headaches and more. Here is an example:

Let’s say you have a fear of spiders (arachnophobia). Imagine laying down, arms and legs outstretched in a starfish pose and having a spider walk all over you. As the spider is crawling over you continue to lay there and accept that it is there, don’t fight it. Let your anxious thoughts be there. All of this sounds pretty crappy right?

As miserable as the above example sounds this is exactlywhat you must do as an anxiety sufferer. Choose to accept the discomfort, livewith it and do not fight it. If youfight your anxious thoughts and feelings your brain will continue to fight tokeep you safe which means the amygdala will keep (over) firing as yourreactions of aversion and avoidance will only solidify the message to yourbrain that there is an actual threat.

As mentioned above following ACT means actively living with an acceptance of anxiety which is what this therapy focuses on. After all anxiety in healthy levels keeps us safe, but anxiety disorders are usually rooted in fears that may not make sense to others. In my example a common fear I have had is that gravity will stop and we’ll float up and die. Seems silly as I type it and likely sounds silly as you read it. I know it’s highly unlikely, and if it did what could I really do about it? That’s the problem, though – anxiety is not based in facts, it is based in thoughts – and thoughts are not facts!

Subsequent blogs will discuss core concepts within ACT includingdefusion, value domains, self-as-context and more.

How ACT Helped Me – and May Help You!

I have lived with anxiety most of my life which culminated in a clinical diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) almost 15 years ago. Over the years I’ve received various forms of psychotherapy, techniques and medications ranging from antidepressants to benzodiazepines taken concurrently. It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom and started an intensive outpatient program based in ACT that I now have more hope than ever. I’m nowhere near having it all figured out but I have the tools to live a happy life with anxiety, and I hope you can too!

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