Acceptance and Commitment Therapy For Dummies
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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps you improve your relationships in all areas — work, family, and friendships — and how to manage anxiety in these areas as well. Gain skills in mindfulness and learn to clearly define and live out your personal values with these valuable tips.

Improving your relationships

Relationships — be they with family, friends, or lovers — are processes. And no matter how happy and contented you are with the important relationships in your life, there’s always room for improvement. Relationships, like all processes, also ebb and flow and present you with challenges.

Here are a few great techniques to help you engage in relationships in a way that represents the kind of person you most want to be:

  • Practice mindful listening when engaging in conversation. Take a few seconds to become aware of your current experience, breathe slowly and rhythmically, and pay careful attention to both what’s being said and other aspects of the interaction, such as the pace, tone, and volume of the other person’s speech, as well as their body language.

  • Set yourself a daily goal to do something nice for someone who’s important to you, no matter how small the gesture.

  • Ask difficult questions if the answers are important to you, even if you fear they may lead to painful conversations or experiences. Take time to reflect on how best to ask those questions in a way that’s caring and compassionate so that the other person feels able to answer honestly.

  • Write a list of the things that matter most to you in your relationships with other people. Try to come up with ten qualities, such as honesty, kindness, and trust, for example. Then consider each quality in turn, and think about how you can actively make it a feature of your current and future relationships.

Developing a different relationship with anger

Anger isn’t actually a problem. It’s a natural emotion, just like happiness and sadness. How you respond to anger, however, can be problematic. How you feel and what you think aren’t choices — but you can choose how to act. Allowing yourself to feel anger but responding in a way that’s non-destructive and consistent with your values is clearly important.

Here are some tips to help you manage anger:

  • Keep in mind that anger is a natural and inevitable emotion, the purpose of which is often (maybe always!) to warn you of a source of threat. This may be an emotional rather than physical threat, such as being blamed for something you haven’t done or being spoken to in an aggressive manner without justification.

  • When you experience anger (even just a little bit), ask yourself what tender emotions may lie beneath it. You may feel self-doubt, confusion, anxiety, a sense of failure or regret, for example. Ask yourself if it’s possible to communicate those more tender emotions rather than the anger and, if so, what you may say and how you may say it.

  • Use mindful breathing and other mindfulness practices to help you notice anger without responding to the impulse to act on it. Anger’s like an itch – it’s beyond your control and just shows up. Whether or not you scratch it, however, is up to you!

Enhancing your work life

Many therapeutic approaches are seen as relevant only to those with a clinically diagnosed mental health problem. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy differs in this respect. Anyone and everyone can benefit from ACT; it can be applied to everyday difficulties as well as serious problems, such as depression. Workplace stress, for example, is a very common problem.

Here are some ACT tips for dealing with workplace stress:

  • List your values — in terms of the kind of person you want to be and the personal qualities that are important to you — and think about how they relate to your working life. From time to time, take one value from this list and set yourself a little personal goal that relates to it. For example, if you value being supportive to colleagues, ask someone who appears to be struggling to join you for coffee to discuss how things are going.

  • Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day if you’re faced with an overwhelming task. Divide that task into small steps and then take the first one!

  • If your work life is making you feel stressed, bear in mind that being disconnected from your values may also account for that feeling. Making some changes that reflect your values — such as resolving to have that difficult conversation with your manager which you’ve been avoiding for the past six months — may resolve the problem or at least make working too hard more manageable.

  • Take some time during your working day to just “be.” Consider working through a brief mindfulness exercise — it can have a profound effect on how able you feel to embrace the challenges you encounter on a daily basis.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Freddy Jackson Brown is a clinical psychologist and has worked in the NHS for over 20 years. Duncan Gillard is a Senior Educational Psychologist and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy practitioner. He provides psychological services to children, young people, families and school-based professionals.

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