Whether we like it or not, the demands of modern society generate stress and anxiety.
The jobs we work and the material wealth we value make significant demands on our time and energy–both of which have an impact on our emotional state. And since most people experience stress and anxiety in some form or another, learning how to better manage these feelings is important to survival and success in the modern world.
As a future psychologist, I get exposed to a wide range of theories and tools that aim to help people live better and more enriching lives. Working with diverse clients and implementing these techniques has taught me how to collaborate with someone to make rapid changes in a short amount of time. One theoretical model that can help facilitate the reduction of stress and anxiety is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT.
Read the list below to discover six components of ACT that help immediately reduce stress and anxiety–empowering people to live more fulfilling lives.
1. Stop what you’re doing and make contact with the present moment.
The only place of power is in the here-and-now. You cannot live from the past and make effective decisions for your present–you can only be here, now, and take actions that will build a meaningful future. Consciously connect to the present moment by noticing five things you see, four things you hear, and three things you feel.
2. Employ diffusion techniques to detach from unhelpful thoughts.
Most people give thoughts more power and influence than they deserve. These temporary and fleeting words flashing in front of your mind’s eye do not control you. Instead of getting caught up in your thoughts or struggling to get rid of them, practice taking a step back by watching your thinking and allowing them to come and go. Pretend that your thoughts are leaves on a stream–watch them as they float away and others arrive. There’s no need to put so much emphasis on a single leaf.
3. Accept whatever is happening in your experience by making room for your feelings.
If the hot water is out and you have to take a shower–because you need to be clean and groomed for a major life event, like a wedding–you make room for the discomfort of the cold water. It sucks–there’s no doubt about it–and yet, you survive because you had something more important to attend to.
Start valuing your time and life the same way: make room for uncomfortable feelings when they arise by breathing through them, giving them space, and not trying to change them. Like a finger trap, the more you fight, the more uncomfortable your feelings become. Instead of fighting, accept what’s happening and keep your eye on the bigger picture.
4. Practice connecting to the observing self throughout each day.
When I said your thoughts don’t control you, that’s because you are aware of your thoughts. And if you are the one noticing thoughts, then you are not the thoughts themselves. I know that’s a little meta, but the Observing Self is the part of you that witnesses your experience. It is the context in which content arises.
Think about your mind as being two parts: one part that’s constantly thinking, and the other that is aware of what’s happening. In the Western world, we practice and discuss mind as the first and largely forget the second. In fact, we don’t even have a word for it! However, this second part–the one that is aware of experience–helps us notice things (like thoughts) without getting too attached to them. Practice developing this part of your self through meditation.
5. Know yourself and what really matters by clarifying your values.
Values are the things you find meaningful in life. They are what you care about and consider important. Think of values as a compass–they aren’t things like goals that can be achieved, but they can help guide you toward a meaningful destination. Clarifying your values across multiple domains like personal growth, employment, recreation, spirituality, relationships, parenting, and physical well-being, can help point you in the right direction when you need to make an important decision.
6. Take committed action by aligning your behaviors with your values.
When you’re stressed at work and then come home, if one of your values is being a supportive partner, then you are going to ask your spouse questions. You are going to listen to what they say and engage them in conversation, without changing the subject immediately to yourself or your stress-filled day. While that means you need to make room for your uncomfortable feelings and process them in a different context, it also upholds your value of being a supportive partner and will improve your relationship.
Learning how to step away from stress and anxiety–something we all experience–is necessary to know yourself and keep focused on what really matters. Whether it’s difficult or uncomfortable, taking meaningful actions according to your values is the best way to live a happy and fulfilling life.