“Welcome to another day in the apocalypse!” your mind says, as you wake up in the morning. You grab your phone and doom scroll on social media for a while before getting out of bed. Acceptance and commitment therapy can be an option for you to help change your thinking and get out of your rut!
After the year we’ve had, it’s normal to not feel okay!
Forest fires, polarized politics, social injustice, a global pandemic are all over your feed and news reports. It seems like you either get lost in worries about these troubles, or you get stuck comparing yourself to all of the people posting unrealistically fabulous pictures about unrealistically fabulous lives on Instagram. Stress abounds!
As you eventually make it out of bed, you might reasonably wonder why you always seem to feel tired lately; asking yourself, “Why can’t I focus on work, and why do I generally feel “meh” these days?” Some of it makes sense, but it seems like more than “just” the pandemic.” It’s worrying. Maybe coffee helps, but just only so much.
Welcome to 2021, and to living with our pandemic era brain states!
It’s important to remember that you are not alone and that your pain and distress is not your fault. Global rates of mental health problems have grown enormously over the last 20 years, leading to anxiety problems and depression being far more common. Economic inequality and other stressors have accelerated, and this was all happening before the pandemic landed on the world. Research studies are already showing rates of depression and anxiety symptoms increasing significantly from 2020-2021. Of course they are. We face real challenges.
Let us (the experts) help you!
As psychologists working with mindfulness, acceptance and commitment based psychotherapy, we are acutely aware of how pervasive the stress and suffering in the world can be at present.
Emotional suffering is the pond we swim in, and, we want you to better understand the challenges you are going through, and it means a lot to us to help you find a way to feel liberated from the struggle. How can you begin again with purpose and vitality when you feel stuck? Are people even cut out for all of this? There are a lot of big questions for you right now.
Your brain can’t process life’s stressors, and most people can’t!
To begin with, it’s important to remember that our brains evolved to their current design a few hundred thousand years ago, to meet the challenges of a totally different situation. Our brains were designed by evolution for living in small groups of collaborative people, looking after one another, with minimal stimulation around competition and daily stress. Technology, civilization and society have changed way more than your brain has over the last few thousand years. This means that your nervous system was never set up to deal with life in 2021, and you probably can feel that.
For example, you probably witness more images of competition, violence and sex on your digital devices in one week than generations of your ancestors would have seen in their lifetimes. That’s a lot for our old school brains to deal with.
As we will see, getting a handle on the effect these mental images, thoughts and feelings have on our brains, bodies and behavior can make a big difference. But most of the time we don’t even realize the ways that our brains contribute to our trouble, we just know that things feel really hard, and that we could really use some help. We might feel like we are waiting for our lives to start, or that we need to reclaim our energy and our ability to live with a sense of joy.
Therapy can be helpful, but what approach is best suited to the challenges at hand? You have some options, and our group has spent a lot of time learning and mastering several approaches to evidence based psychotherapy. Some will seem better suited to your problems than others, for sure.
Can cognitive behavioral therapy work for me?
Our therapists sometimes joke with clients that traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on reframing negative “distorted” thoughts into positive thoughts, can feel a little bit out of touch with the current state of affairs! Acknowledging the challenges in the world right now is not a distortion.
Our group is extensively trained in CBT, and some are even leading CBT trainers, but we know that pushing ourselves into “positive thinking” isn’t always the right path forward for you, is it? How can you just “re-frame” the pandemic, climate crisis, or economic crises? The answer is that you probably can’t.
So what can you do?
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) was meticulously developed from 1980’s through to the present, by a global community of dedicated researchers and therapists. Originally developed by Steven C. Hayes, Kirk Strosahl and Kelly Wilson, acceptance and commitment therapy is often referred to as “third-wave cognitive behavioral therapy,” which means that ACT seeks to use mindfulness, acceptance, and compassion as key processes to help you get unstuck from what is driving your suffering, and to reclaim your life.
Rather than striving to change “negative” thoughts into “positive” thoughts, your acceptance and commitment therapist will help you develop a new, more effective and self-compassionate relationship with your thinking. Using techniques that resemble mindfulness meditation, behavior therapy, and compassionate coaching, acceptance and cognitive therapy will help you to realize that your thoughts, in and of themselves, are not really the problem. Your relationship to mental events, and the ways that your thoughts can control your action, or inaction, drives much of your suffering.
Grounded in hundreds of outcome studies and decades of experimental research, acceptance and commitment therapy can be understood as a form of “psychological flexibility training” where you will develop the ability to have your thoughts without those thoughts having you. Psychological flexibility involves 6 processes, and each process has a wealth of evidence based tools that you can use to alleviate emotional suffering and live with greater meaning, purpose and vitality. These are the 6 ways that acceptance and commitment therapy can change your life, and as you begin to understand them, your journey to greater psychological flexibility is already beginning, here and now!
On your acceptance and commitment therapy journey you will learn to:
- Contact the present moment fully, mindfully observing your experience, here and now.
- View your mental events as what they are, not what they appear to be
- Willingly ride the waves of challenging feelings and brain states without handing your life over to anxiety or distress
- Take a flexible observer’s perspective on all of your mental experiences, with working distance from the grip of troubling thoughts
- Become the author of valued aims and goals for your life, that involve your heart’s deepest wish for how you want to be in the world
- Commit to steady, effective behavior change to realize your valued aims and reclaim your life
These six core, evidence-based processes make up the acceptance and commitment therapy model of mental health and flourishing, the psychological flexibility model. Hundreds of studies with thousands of participants have shown that building up these strengths can change your life and liberate you from psychological suffering, and we are committed to helping you realize this capacity, and take back your life.
Our upcoming blogs will walk you through each of these processes in detail, and help you master each aspect as much as you can. Please feel free to contact us at CFTCENTERNYC@GMAIL.COM to book an appointment or consultation with our team. Be sure to mention your specific interest in acceptance and commitment therapy. We can take our lives and our world back together.