Watch Your Thinking – 3 ACT ways to reduce your anxiety

Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a unique approach to manage our anxious thoughts and feelings. One major element of ACT is teaching people how to handle pain, anxiety more effectively using mindfulness skills 

Does your mind ever say things like….

This is bad. I can’t do this. This is it. Why does this happen only to me? What are they going to think of me? I am not cut out for this work. I can’t handle it. I am dumb. Why is this difficult? I shouldn’t think this way. I can’t control anything.” 

This happens to most of us when we are anxious.
The escalation of the negative thoughts happens so rapidly that it takes us into a dreaded rabbit hole.  

You’re at the right place! Let’s go through how we can calm ourselves and worry less about the future!

  1.  I’M HAVING THE THOUGHT THAT …….. 

This first technique is said to be very effective with patients

This first technique has been very effective with my patients.  

  • Put your negative self-judgment into a short sentence—in the form “I am X.”  

For example, I’m a loser or I’m not smart enough.  

  • Now fuse with this thought for ten seconds. In other words, get all caught up in it and believe it as much as you possibly can.  

Rate your anxiety from 1-10, 10 being very anxious. 

  • Now silently replay the thought with this phrase in front of it: “I’m having the thought that ...”  For example, I’m having the thought that I’m a loser.  
  • Now replay it one more time, but this time add this phrase “I notice I’m having the thought that ...”  

For example, I notice I’m having the thought that I’m a loser.  

Rate your anxiety again. Even though it is just a mild difference, something is better than nothing! 

2) SINGING AND SILLY VOICES

  • Put your negative self-judgment into a short sentence—in the form “I am X”—and fuse with it for ten seconds. Rate your anxiety. 
  • Now, inside your head, silently sing the thought to the tune “Happy Birthday.”  
  • Hear it in the voice of a movie or cartoon character or a sports commentator.  

What happened that time?

Did you notice a sense of separation or distance from the thought? If not, run through the exercise again with a different thought.

 DISCLAIMER : Be wary of the thoughts you use this for. Validate your pain and nervousness. This might not be applicable for all kinds of thoughts.

3) TITCHENER’S REPETITION

This exercise (Titchener, 1916) involves three steps:  

  1. Pick a simple noun, such as “lemon.”  

Say it out loud once or twice, and notice what shows up psychologically—what thoughts, images, smells, tastes, or memories come to mind. 

  1. Now repeat the word over and over out loud as fast as possible for thirty seconds— until it becomes just a meaningless sound. Please try this now with the word “lemon,” before reading on. You must do it out loud for it to be effective.  
  1. Now run through the exercise again with an evocative judgmental word—a word that you tend to use when you judge yourself harshly 

For example, “bad,” “fat,” “idiot,” “selfish,” “loser,” “incompetent,”—or a two-word phrase  such as “bad mother.”  

Please try this now and notice what happens. Most people find the word or phrase becomes meaningless within about thirty seconds. Then we see it for what it truly is: an odd sound, a vibration. Your harsh words over a period of time then will provoke less and less anxiety. 

There are other meditative and visualisation techniques which focuses on allowing the thought to come and go, focusing on the sensations and experiences. However these are most effective when done by a trained therapist. 

This is a brief review of how defusion helps in the process of managing the anxiety. Defusion as a process is a core component of the ACT therapy. Undergoing ACT with a trained therapist has proven to very effective in dealing with anxiety (Heydari et al., 2018). 

Written by our Senior Clinical Psychologist Dr. Suvetha
Edited and coordinated by Arathi Nair

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