In a world that often encourages us to constantly strive for self-improvement and external validation, the concept of acceptance has become a powerful beacon of self-compassion and inner peace. Acceptance, in its truest form, extends beyond merely tolerating or resigning to circumstances—it’s about embracing ourselves, our inner experiences, and the world around us with open arms. In this blog, we’ll delve into the profound wisdom of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), exploring how learning to make room for our intense inner experiences can lead to a more fulfilling life.
The Essence of Acceptance
Acceptance, at its core, is the practice of acknowledging and embracing every facet of our being, both the light and the shadow. It’s about making room for the full spectrum of human experiences, including our feelings, thoughts, memories, sensations, and urges. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up or resigning to these experiences; instead, it’s a conscious choice to allow them to exist without judgment or resistance. By doing so, we grant ourselves the freedom to explore the depths of our emotions and thoughts, ultimately leading to greater self-awareness and emotional well-being.
Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT): Making Room for Inner Experiences
Acceptance Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is a therapeutic approach that champions the idea of making room for our inner experiences. It recognises that we are not our thoughts or emotions but rather the observers of them. From an ACT perspective, we can define “emotion dysregulation” as the inability to respond flexibly to emotions. We’ve all been there, overwhelmed by immense emotional pain, and yes, that includes myself too! Emotion dysregulation often occurs when our awareness becomes fused with worrying thoughts, intense feelings, and inner experiences, leading us to avoid being fully present in the moment. We might try to suppress our feelings or resist what’s arising within us – something we’ve all experienced at some point. The more inflexibly we respond to our emotions, the more problems we create, and the greater our psychological suffering becomes.
The Antidote: Emotional Flexibility
The antidote to emotion dysregulation is emotional flexibility. It’s about learning to respond to our emotions with acceptance for what is showing up, making contact with the present moment, being aware of our observing self, identifying our values, and committing to actions that help us “unhook” from these intense inner experiences that hold us back from living a meaningful life.
When a difficult emotion is present, there are three key steps that can be helpful:
Open up: Instead of avoiding or suppressing the difficult inner experience, we make room for it. We acknowledge its presence and suffering while defusing from the cognitive elements that keep us stuck or resistant to life situations.
Do what matters to you: This step involves being guided by our values to find a way to accept the situation for what it is and seek solutions that align with our values.
Be present: By focusing on and fully engaging in what we are doing, we can shift our attention away from the intensity of the emotion and stay connected to the present moment.
From the perspective of Acceptance Commitment Therapy, the goal is not to reduce the intensity of the emotion or avoid the suffering or inner experiences. Instead, we work on finding ways to stay present, acknowledge and allow these inner experiences, stay in touch with our values, and be guided by our inner wisdom. We accept what is unfolding, recognising that our pain is our ally, and our emotions are trying to get our attention for self-care and healing to unfold.
One practical technique within ACT is to NAME the emotion or urge, following the acronym:
N – Notice the sensations: Pay attention to the physical sensations associated with the emotion or urge.
A – Acknowledge by name: Label the emotion or urge with a name, giving it a clear and defined identity.
M – Make room for the intense inner experiences: Create space for the emotion or urge to exist without judgment or resistance.
E – Expand awareness: Widen your awareness to include not only the emotion or urge but also the present moment and your values, helping you make more mindful and values-based choices.
Acceptance, as exemplified by Acceptance Commitment Therapy and the Four A’s, is a powerful tool for personal growth and emotional well-being. It teaches us that making room for our inner experiences—acknowledging, allowing, accommodating, and appreciating them—is the path to self-discovery and lasting change. By embracing acceptance, both of ourselves and the world around us, we unlock the potential for a more fulfilling and authentic life. So, let’s embark on this journey of self-compassion, recognising that true acceptance is the gateway to a brighter and more harmonious existence. Embracing emotional flexibility allows us to navigate our inner experiences skilfully, leading to greater emotional well-being and a more meaningful life journey. So, the next time a difficult emotion arises, remember to NAME it and embark on the path of acceptance and flexibility.
The !0th of October is World Mental Health Day and the whole month of October is celebrated as ‘Mental Health Month’ in Australia. Whilst I am passionate about opening up conversations in our community around mental and emotional wellbeing, I do not want to subscribe to a dialogue that pathologizes experiences of distress and normal human emotions and buys into a medical model of ‘mental illness’. As Eleanor Langdon so eloquently put it ‘The relevant question in psychiatry shouldn’t be “What’s wrong with you?” but rather “What happened to you?”’.
This year the theme for World Mental Health Day is ‘Mental health is a universal human right’, fair enough, no arguments here. What we also need to say though, “it’s normal”. We need to not only say “we accept you” but more importantly “it’s normal, what you are experiencing, is a normal human experience, you’re not diseased, there’s nothing wrong with you, you don’t have an illness, you’re just experiencing very real, human suffering’. When our ‘right to mental health’ is evasive, it doesn’t mean we’re ill, it doesn’t mean we have a genetically predisposed condition (genes for mental ill health are yet to be found), it means life has been difficult, whether in our past or our present and as Dr Lucy Johnston explains in the Power Threat Meaning Framework, unusual thoughts, feelings and behaviours in response to abnormal and traumatic life events is a very normal human reaction.
The issue I have when we talk about ‘mental health awareness’ in our society, is we so often come from a western medical perspective. We tell people ‘its ok to say you’re not well, its ok to ask for help, its ok to have a label’. It is ok to say you’re not well, you’re struggling, you’re in incredible pain, you need help but I don’t in fact think its ok to give people labels to explain their emotional pain. Living with deep sadness and debilitating fear (as I have and sometimes still do), having difficulty trusting people and their intentions, feeling unsafe in our body, having unique experiences of voice hearing or vision seeing, these are all very real and often very scary things. We SHOULD talk about them, we should reach out with love, compassion and support for people who are experiencing them. What we shouldn’t do is link the very real need for compassion, connection, love and support with the need to diagnose, label and automatically medicate (without exploring all options). This World Mental Health Day lets shout from the rafters “MENTAL HEALTH IS A UNIVERAL HUMAN RIGHT’ and so too is the right to be seen as a human being in pain, rather than a diagnostic label.
At a time when the whole world is high and intoxicated on Christmas trees and tinsel, I take a moment to reflect on a large part of our community, that for this time of year feel only grief, pain, and isolation. I know we have all been in the grips of pain at some point in our life but imagine that torment and anguish continuing as you struggle to make sense of and heal from the traumatic events that you’ve experienced. For our community, they don’t have to imagine because they are living with those feelings every day which can be heightened at Christmas, by watching the world celebrate without them.
For many, the mere thought of celebration feels like an impossible feat and something they may never again get to experience. For others, they are still in the midst of their trauma and fighting every day just to survive, let alone celebrate. And while I cannot speak to anyone else’s journey, I can draw on my own lived experience of what has worked for me in hopes that I may give someone a little hope and healing this Holiday season.
Where do you start when the pain feels so overwhelming and the hole you find yourself in is so deep, you can’t even see the light above?
You start with you. The one constant throughout your life journey and the only person who can truly heal your wounds and scars.” What do you mean me?” I can hear you saying, “how do I do that and how do I trust myself when I haven’t kept myself safe so far?” and the big one I used to ruminate on “who is going to fix me because if I could do it myself, I would have done it already?”
These are all valid concerns, and you are not alone in these feelings. While I can’t take away your pain or fix your gaping wounds, I can offer a few ways to start or help you on your healing journey of discovering that you are enough, to not only heal but find your own peace and happiness whatever that may look like for you.
1. Belonging to you
We look outwards to belong and while community and friends are an important part of our social well-being, can you ever truly belong when you don’t accept yourself? Take some time to get to know yourself and find the gifts you have to give.
2. Seek Your Wisdom
From the moment we are born we are taught to self-doubt and look outside for validation and guidance. The truth is, we are all born with our own extremely intelligent guidance system and that is the best place to start. Sit with yourself and ask your questions and then trust that you are the expert in your life and no one is more qualified to live it than you.
3. The gift of giving
We are not alone in this world, no matter how isolated you may feel, and nothing warms the heart as much as being able to help another despite how you’re feeling. It can be as simple as a passing smile or an open door. There is healing in knowing that everyone on earth is sharing this journey and we can offer the gift of comfort to each other in our own special way.
4. Tell your story
For centuries humans have passed down stories of adventure, tragedy, and sorrow. These stories offer not only entertainment but demonstrate to us ways in which others before us have conquered their fears, overcome their challenges, and celebrated life’s gifts. There is healing power in stories, and by sharing yours, you may give that gift to someone else while helping your own heart to heal.
5. Nature’s wonderland
There is no better place to help you heal than the magic of mother nature. Listen to the sounds of the wind, birds, or ocean. Feel the warmth on your face. Nature connects, grounds, and heals, putting you in touch with the miracles of life that you are a part of.
6. Nourish yourself
Take time to give to yourself, and listen to what your body and soul need. Every small step counts in finding your way back to you. A shower, walk, or nice warm relaxing bath, whatever you find comforting is a great place to start. Every small step towards loving yourself is a step further along your healing journey. You deserve to be nourished and loved, and this is a gift that you can start to give to yourself today.
7. Allow yourself time to feel
This is a big one because so many of us run away from our feelings because they feel so big, painful, and overwhelming. I find writing my thoughts and feelings down really helps me to make sense of them and gives me some relief and clarity. The only way to heal is to feel and as hard as that seems no one else can do it for us. We can, however, surround ourselves with people who hold the space, supporting us to feel with no judgment or opinions, just listening.
8. Meaningful connection with others
You are not alone in this world although sometimes it can really feel that way. How can anyone truly understand what you are going through, how can you relate to others after what you’ve been through? These are all valid questions that we ask ourselves, but you don’t need to experience someone’s pain to sit with them and offer comfort. You don’t need to have lived someone’s trauma to offer empathy and compassion. Meaningful connection is understanding that we are all on our own separate journeys and we can’t know the other’s happiness, pain, or trauma, only be a witness and share in their experience by listening.
9. No more shame and Blame
We are good at feeling shame and blaming ourselves when things go wrong, or traumatic events happen in our lives. The truth is you are not to blame and no matter what has happened to you, there is no reason to feel shame. Everyone will experience things they feel they have to run and hide from but truly understanding and accepting that you are no less than anybody else in this world no matter what your story, will help you find the courage to share because shame comes from feeling too embarrassed to let others see your truth. We don’t have to feel ashamed. We can find comfort in each other.
10. Shifting Your language
Words have power. Notice the difference between” I will never feel loved, safe or happy” to “I am finding it difficult to feel love, safety, and happiness right now”, While at a quick glance they may appear the same, the second version is sprinkled with optimism and possibility rather than being a finite never. How we speak to ourselves matters and leaving room for hope is a small but necessary step toward healing and change.
11. Choose to be curious
When we embark on our healing journey it can feel overwhelming and hopeless, we often don’t know where to begin. The first step that I found useful was to be curious. When we ask ourselves questions and remain curious about the answers without judgment or expectation, we can often find new ways to view things that can help us move forward one step at a time.
12. The gifts of imperfection
This time of year often makes us look inward and there we can find judgment and conditional love towards ourselves. We can hold high expectations, but it is ok to be exactly where you are. There is no perfect that exists, only the beauty of imperfection, as we all strive to learn, love, and heal in this world together. Once we embrace our own and each other’s imperfections for the opportunities of love and connection that they are, we can start to truly live and enjoy the gift of every moment.
I hope that one day, you can find it within your heart to celebrate along with the rest of the world, not necessarily Christmas but the magic of life and the true miracle you really are with all your wounds and scars, in fact, they make up the most beautiful parts of you.
We all have had that experience of an extremely stressful event or moment in time, where once we felt the danger or stress had passed, we fell in a heap and let out a big sigh of relief. But what does that big breath actually do and why is breathing imperative to physical, mental, and emotional health? Below we explore what the breath does to our bodies and state of mind and the benefits we can receive by becoming aware of our breath.
No matter who we are, where we come from, or the environment we grew up in, we’ve all experienced stressful events and situations, some more than others. It’s not so much the events or circumstances that happen but how we perceive them. This makes stress somewhat objective and not something that we can easily categorize but rather a personal daily journey we all find ourselves on. The reasons for our stress are many and varied, however, we are very good at talking ourselves out of, ignoring, and excusing away our feelings, even though our body and emotions are signaling loud and clear that we are indeed stressed at that moment.
What does Stress Feel Like
Let’s start with what stress can feel like and how we can recognize it. Stress and anxiety are closely linked, anxiety generally appears after prolonged stress or because of an extremely stressful or traumatic event. Both have clear physical and emotional signs, some may include, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and negative ruminating thoughts. It can make us feel overwhelmed, scared, and helpless, depending on the circumstance. Extreme stress and anxiety can make us feel isolated and force us to retreat to what we perceive as safety, for many it means hiding out alone at home.
When we feel these feelings and bodily reactions, our mind goes into overdrive, either trying to talk us down, excuse the feelings away, or by exasperating the anxiety and stress sometimes turning it into a full-blown panic attack. But what does breathing have to do with all of this?
What Happens When We Intentionally Breath
Breath is our life force, the reason we continue to live, and something we do automatically thanks to the amazing design of the human body. What some people may not know, is that breathing affects every part of our body, including our mind and emotions, and can help us gain a sense of control during what feels like an out-of-control situation.
When we take deep breaths, signals are sent to our brains, telling us to relax and be calm. These messages are then translated throughout our bodies, reducing tension and relieving stress when we are anxious or feel overwhelmed. Deep breathing is one of the most restorative and rejuvenating things you can do for your body, it taps into the brain-body connection and can have both physical and emotional, long- and short-term benefits by evoking improved mindfulness, a physical reduction in stress, and grounding. With a multitude of breathing techniques, you can find one that works best for you. There is no right or wrong way of breathing, but I have found slow deep long inhale through your nose and then a slow steady exhale out of your mouth is very effective and has done wonders for me. Your mind and body are unique, there are many ways to breathe and calm yourself down and no one will know what’s best for you more than you do.
So please take this opportunity to experiment and see what works best for you. Below are three common and effective different breathing exercises for you to try.
Anxious? Try belly breathing
Taking a deep breath down into the belly area that puffs out when we fill up our lungs. It might be helpful to place a hand on the stomach so we can feel how it rises and falls when we direct our breath there.
Slowly breathe in through the nose and feel the belly push out. Slowly exhale through the mouth and feel the belly draw inwards.
Need to focus? Try box breathing
It might be helpful to imagine a box and its 4 equal sides for this breathing exercise. The visualization will help us breathe and hold our breath for the same number of counts while we trace one corner to the next in our minds, all the way around the box.
Take slow, deep breaths, inhale through your nose for 4, hold the breath for 4, exhale through the mouth for 4, and hold the breath for 4 before we inhale again.
Overwhelmed? Try alternate nostril breathing
Nadi Shodhana is an ancient form of yogic breathing or alternate nostril breathing, a method said to balance the left and right hemispheres in the brain and create a peaceful state of mind. This exercise is best done sitting upright, with a long spine and relaxed shoulders.
Take the right thumb and close the right nostril, inhale slowly and fully through the left nostril, then pause. Use the right ring finger to close off the left nostril. Then release the thumb and exhale through the right nostril. Pause.
Leaving our fingers exactly where they are, we’ll breathe in through the right nostril, then pause. Use the right thumb to close off the right nostril. Then release the right ring finger and exhale through the left nostril. Pause. That’s one full count.
When we’re finished with deep-breathing exercises, we can sit and relax while we return to our normal breathing. While the breath is returning to its natural rhythm, take the moment to notice how the body and mind feel after we took the time to practice a little self-care.
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming when confronting our stress, anxiety, or reliving traumatic events. If you would like some help sitting with these difficult emotions, our counsellors are skilled in creating safe enough spaces for you to explore your inner world while receiving compassionate unconditional support.