Well, hello there I’m Angela Mitten, the ACT Counsellor. I am so excited to be bringing to you all that I love about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I'm a huge fan of this therapy, which is called ACT for short.
I first came across ACT when I was studying to be a counsellor, and there was something in it that really resonated with me. I've since applied lots and lots of the strategies to my own life personally and also in the counselling work I do in my private practice in Bendigo, Australia. I want to make ACT accessible to people who may not even be seeing a counsellor. I’ll be talking about ways that you can apply the strategies, the skills, techniques, or applying an ACT lens to your experience. I believe that ACT can really make a difference to people and the way they experience their thoughts and feelings, and therefore have an impact on their behaviour and their relationships.
You know sometimes being human can be so hard. It is a complex experience and we are living in a complex world.
As a human being we can experience a huge range of emotions. There’s the ones that we call positive. These are feelings that we want to be experiencing all the time. We do lots of things to try to have more of these feelings.
Sometimes we can be totally overwhelmed by emotions. There are emotions that we don’t want to have. We tend to label these “negative'' emotions and find them problematic. We try to push them away, control them or do anything we can to ignore, change or deny them.
Sometimes we have developed patterns that have worked for us before. We get stuck using these patterns because they worked at some point. Maybe they worked in the short term.
They gave us some relief, even for a short time, from those difficult challenging emotions.
Over the long term though, the same kind of emotions keep coming back. Or sometimes those short term solutions that used to work, stop working, or the short term solutions work for small amounts of those emotions. But then when something bigger happens, those go to strategies that we've used, stop working, and then we've got nothing to fall back on.
That's where ACT really offers a different way to relate to our emotions. So today I’m talking about five things that we can do.
Firstly, there’s normalising. Normalising requires you to notice what you are experiencing, try and find a name to label the emotion. This requires bringing some mindful awareness to your emotional state. Reminding yourself that this is part of the human experience. Others too, would feel this way. This is a normal human experience. This is what a normal human being feels when there's a gap between what we want and what we've got.
If you're feeling frustrated, anxious, annoyed, even terrified. Whatever that feeling is that you're having, when you stop and look at it. It's often to do with this gap between what we want and what the situation is presenting us with at the time.
Normalizing and recognizing that. Yep, this is part of the human experience. And what I'm having right now is totally normal and congruent with the experience that I’m having right now. That can go a long way to helping you to take a step back from the intensity of the emotion and having a look at it, sort of like you're observing your emotion rather than being totally in it.
Secondly, see if you can allow this feeling to be here. Now, sure, you might not like this feeling, you might not want it, but here it is. However, if you can, see if you can allow the feeling to just be there, allow it.
Thirdly, and this goes with the allowing try to breathe into it, breathe into this feeling.
It's as if, your breath flows into it and around it, and you expand around it, making room for it.
See if, as you breathe into it, you can notice an opening up and expansion around the feeling. It's as if in some magical way, all this space opens up inside you.
There is also the quicksand metaphor that is often used in ACT
If you've ever seen one of those movies, where the person falls into quicksand, and they're struggling, struggling, struggling against the quicksand, trying to fight it, and the fighting, and the struggle is what pulls them down into it.
So what we try and do with ACT is that we imagine that we're trying to get out or float on the quicksand. Sometimes it’s the fighting against what is, which actually creates the overwhelm, and makes the emotions stronger. So when we stop fighting against our emotions, that in itself often can settle them.
Lastly, I want to share this with you, the healing hand. The healing hand is where we bring in some compassion to those intense emotions. I want you to take your hand and lay it on a part of your body where you feel the emotion most intently, it might be in your chest, it might be in your belly. And imagine that this healing hand is like the presence of a loving caregiver, imagine a nurturing grandmother type energy or a nurse, now notice the warmth of your hand and allow your hand to send some warmth into the area.
This is not to get rid of the feeling. Remember, with ACT that we're never trying to actually get rid of a feeling. We're opening up around it, making room for it, or holding it gently.
There's my five tips to start accepting our emotions. I hope you can start working with these tips during the week. If you're having any strong emotion, start by normalising it, or allowing the emotion to be there, breathing in and expanding around it. laying a healing hand on the part that's feeling the emotion most severely or visualise that quicksand and try floating on the quicksand instead fighting against it.
I’m Angela Mitten, the ACT Counsellor. I’m a counsellor in private practice in Central Victoria, Australia.
You can listen to my podcast where I share my passion and expertise of ACT and how it can support you.