Anxious thoughts are annoying at best and quite damaging to our mental health and wellbeing at worst. Part of the problem with these worries, fears, and what-ifs is the fact that once they form, they stick. It’s as if they’re covered in oozing tree sap so when they pop into your mind, they don’t leave. When we try to shake them of, they tighten their hold. When we try to argue them away, they grow because we’re giving them our full attention. We are focusing on all of our anxieties, and they stick together, growing larger and larger and threatening to consume us. Plain and simple, anxious thoughts are sticky so they don’t go away. It can seem as though we’ll never be able to loosen them. That is a common thought/feeling borne out of the frustrations of anxiety. It’s also false. You can remove your sticky thoughts. Mindfulness is a powerfully effective way to do it.
Knowing what avoidance does to us can help us make positive changes to embrace life. Avoidance is a behavior that is hardwired into us. It’s an instinctive reaction (think: fight-or-flight response, specifically the “flight” part) that in theory keeps us safe from danger. And sometimes avoidance, or flight, does just that. When we avoid walking across dark parking lots alone at night (whether we’re male or female, young or old), we keep ourselves out of risk of significant danger. What happens, though, when our brain tells us there is danger lurking here or there, and we avoid good things because of it? When we understand what this avoidance does to us, we can stop avoiding the wrong things.
Knowing how to handle ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) can reduce anxiety and increase wellbeing. Recently, in ANTs—Automatic Thoughts Can Ruin Your Picnic, I explored how ANTs can be pesky little creatures that get in the way of our living life fully. These automatic negative thoughts that pop into our minds in certain situations can cause great stress and anxiety. They can even intensify depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. We all have ANTs (they’re not exclusive to mental illness). Unfortunately, it’s natural for the human mind to get stuck in unhelpful thought patterns that drag us down. There are ways to deal with ANTs so they don’t ruin the proverbial picnic of your life. Here are three approaches whose effectiveness has been proven by research.
Psychological Flexibility? You’ve likely heard of flexibility, and chances are when you think of the term you think of the body – as in, when you bend forward, can you touch your toes, your knees, or your thighs? (I’m working toward the goal of consistently reaching my knees.) We Both our bodies and minds can be flexible. Psychological flexibility directly impacts the life we live and our sense of wellbeing.
Acceptance and commitment therapy is a powerful approach to our mental health and wellbeing. It may not seem like it sometimes, but each and every one of us has the power within us to create what in positive psychology is known as a life worth living. A life worth living simply means the life that we, individually, find valuable–a quality life that we want to fully and completely live. A life worth living is never out of reach. There is an incredibly useful therapeutic approach that can guide us all along the long and winding path. Referred to as acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, this approach empowers us all to live well and thrive in spite of problems, hardships, and challenges.