We all have times when we want to get rid of painful thoughts or feelings. It would be odd if we didn’t – pain is unpleasant and wanting it to go away is sensible.
What strategies have you tried to get rid of unpleasant thoughts and feelings?
You might have tried:
- Distracting yourself (focussing on something else or doing something useful);
- Soothing yourself (taking some slow, deep breaths; eating some chocolate; finding someone to reassure you)
- Challenging the thoughts (Is it really true that I am lazy?)
- Problem solving the issue that caused the pain (I am anxious because I am running late delivering this project so I will come up with a workable plan to get it finished on time).
Often these strategies are helpful BUT (yes, it is a big but!) they don’t work all the time and the times when they don’t work are often when we are most distressed. At those times nothing seems to stop our mind thrashing about. When we engage with those thoughts and try to make our mind see sense, we often actually increase how hooked we are. When we try to hold back or change the direction of the waves of emotional pain that are buffeting us, we just get exhausted.
The A in ACT stands for Acceptance. One of the things we may need to accept is that although we may be able to influence our thoughts and feelings, we can’t control them and sometimes in trying to control them we get actually get more hooked.
So what could we do instead? The best option seems to be to use mindfulness:
- Observing our thoughts and feelings with curiosity and compassion
- Allowing our feelings to rise and fall
- Letting our thoughts come and go
- Bringing our attention to this moment now – what we are experiencing through our five senses
- Connecting with our values – Who do I really want to be? And then,
- Taking action based on our values.