When anxiety shows up, our impulse is usually either to try to deny or run away from our pain or to get caught up in dwelling on it through rumination and worry, allowing it to take charge of our lives.

Trying to run from anxiety, through distraction, substances or opting out from certain people or situations, often doesn’t work in the long-term because what we are trying to avoid will often keep showing up for us, again and again. As the saying goes, “What we resist, persists”.

Trying to combat anxiety and putting lots of energy towards trying to control it can lead to increased anxiety about our anxiety, since when we are so focused on it and absorbed in it, it often gets bigger. When you find yourself fighting against anxiety and trying to chase solutions to make it go away, you become even more aware and consumed by its presence because you are constantly checking to see if it’s still there.

Stephen Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT), wrote in his new book, “A liberated mind”, that what we should do instead is “[…] to turn towards our discomfort and disquiet in a way that is open, curious, and kind. It’s about looking in a non-judgemental and compassionate way at the places in ourselves and in our lives where we hurt, because the things that have the power to cause us the most pain are often the things we care about most deeply. Our deepest yearnings and most powerful motivations lie hidden inside our most unhealthy defense systems” [1].

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy that helps you change your relationship with your thoughts and feelings and develop more psychological flexibility (the ability to cope well even when there are difficult thoughts and feelings because you don’t hook on to them in the same way), to accept what is out of your control and commit instead to actions that enrich your life. It provides you with tools to create distance between you and your thoughts and regain a sense of control over the impact they have on you.

It is an evidence-based approach that has been shown to be effective for treating anxiety [1, 2], depression [1, 2, 3], substance abuse [1, 2] and chronic pain [1, 4, 5]. It has also been shown to be effective in improving the mental health of cancer patients and reducing the severity of fear of cancer recurrence and anxiety and depression symptoms among patients [6, 7, 8].

ACT invites us to be willing, to be curious, and to be committed towards investing in our lives.

Book a counselling session today to learn more about ACT and begin working together.

[1] Gloster AT, Walder N, Levin ME, Twohig MP, Karekla M, 2020. The empirical status of acceptance and commitment therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science. 18:181-192.

[2] A-Tjak, J, Davis, M, Morina, N, Powers, M, Smits, J and P Emmelkamp, 2014. A meta-analysis of the efficacy of acceptance and commitment therapy for clinically relevant mental and physical health problems. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 84(1):30-6.

[3] Samaan, M, Diefenbacher, A, Schade, C, Dambacher, C, Pontow, I-M, Pakenham, K and T Fydrich, 2020. A clinical effectiveness trial comparing ACT and CBT for inpatients with depressive and mixed mental disorders. Psychotherapy Research, 31(3): 372-385

[4] Hughes LS, Clark J, Colclough JA, Dale E, McMillan D, 2017. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 33(6):552-568.

[5] Trindade IA, Guiomar R, Carvalho SA, Duarte J, Lapa T, Menezes P, Nogueira MR, Patrão B, Pinto-Gouveia J and P Castilho, 2021. Efficacy of Online-Based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Pain, 22(11):1328-1342.

[6] Zhao C, Lai L, Zhang L, Cai Z, Ren Z, Shi C, Luo Z and Y Yan, 2021. The effects of acceptance and commitment therapy on the psychological and physical outcomes among cancer patients: A meta-analysis with trial sequential analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 140(1):110304.

[7] National Cancer Institute, 2020. Helping Cancer Survivors Cope with Cancer-Related Anxiety and Distress. https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/cancer-survivors-managing-anxiety-distress

[8] Li Z, Li Y, Guo L, Li M & K Yang, 2021. Effectiveness of acceptance and commitment therapy for mental illness in cancer patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 75(6): e13982

Melina Ladouceur

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Melina Ladouceur is a registered social worker and practicing psychotherapist who offers individual counselling and is currently accepting new clients.