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At The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, our psychologists have years of experience. Unlike many other providers, our clinicians truly specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and related problems. Our mission is to apply only the most effective short-term psychological treatments supported by extensive scientific research. We are located in Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Mission Valley.

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Read our award-winning blogs for useful information and tips about anxiety, stress, and related disorders.

 

Filtering by Tag: anxiety disorders

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

Jill Stoddard

By Annabelle Parr

Each May we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month to draw attention to and reduce stigma around mental health issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, 1 in 5 people will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime. And as we discussed last May during #CureStigma, “while 1 in 5 Americans are affected by a mental health condition, 5 in 5 Americans know what it is to feel pain. The frequency, intensity, and duration can vary, but pain itself is a function of being human. When culture stigmatizes the 1 in 5 and simultaneously dichotomizes illness and wellness, the resulting message is that it is shameful to struggle and to feel pain. In essence, stigma says that it is shameful to admit our own humanity.”

Do I need therapy?

Given that all of us will at some point encounter painful experiences and emotions, this year we are discussing how to know when it might be helpful to seek therapy. Though it may be clear that those affected by a previously diagnosed mental health condition could benefit from therapy, for those who are either undiagnosed or are struggling with anxiety, stress, grief, sadness, etc. but do not meet diagnostic criteria for a mental health disorder, it may be harder to discern whether therapy is warranted.

How am I functioning in the important areas of my life?

For nearly every condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V; APA, 2013), clinically significant impairment in an important area of functioning is a required criterion to receive a diagnosis. In other words, the presenting symptoms must be making it very difficult to function at work or school, in relationships, or in another important life domain (e.g., a person is feeling so anxious that she is not able to make important presentations at work, or so stressed that he is finding it difficult to connect with his loved ones).  When life has begun to feel unmanageable in some capacity, or if something that was once easy or mildly distressing has become so distressing it feels impossible, it may be worth considering therapy.

Could things be better?

It’s also important to note that you do not have to feel as though things are falling apart before you seek professional counseling. Therapy can be helpful in a wide range of situations. It can help you not only navigate major challenges or emotionally painful periods, but also can enhance your overall wellbeing by helping you to identify your values and lean into them. Maybe things are going fine, but could be better. A therapist can help you identify what could be going better and can help you learn to fine tune the necessary skills.

I want to try therapy, but where do I start?

Whether things feel totally unmanageable or it just feels like they could be better, it’s important to find a therapist with expertise relevant to what you would like assistance with. Working with children requires different expertise to working with adults, just as working with couples and families requires additional expertise to working with individuals. Different conditions also correspond with particular evidence based practices. For stress and anxiety disorders – including social anxiety, generalized anxiety, panic disorder or panic attacks, and phobias – evidence based practices include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The gold standard of treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and evidence based treatments for PTSD include Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) (all of these—ERP, PE, and CPT --fall under the CBT umbrella). So no matter what you are seeking treatment for, ensuring that the therapist you choose has expertise that aligns with the types of concerns you are struggling with is critical. For some more tips on finding and choosing a therapist, click here and here. For more information on the different kinds of licenses a therapist may have, click here.  

Though there is no right or wrong answer as to whether or not you need therapy, if you are unable to behave in ways that make life manageable and/or fulfilling because of difficult thoughts or feelings, you may find therapy beneficial.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxiety, panic, phobias, stress, PTSD, OCD, or insomnia, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at info@csamsandiego.com

Hey Siri, I’m Feeling Anxious: Apps for Anxiety

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

There seems to be an app for everything these days. Smartphones have become like little pocket genies – your wish is its command. Whether you want a date, a ride, or help with a physical or mental health concern, your smartphone claims to have you covered. 

Recently, there has been a surge in apps claiming to help calm anxiety. Some offer mood tracking, others offer guided breathing and meditation, still others allow you to track your thoughts, claiming to utilize CBT methods to help you reframe unhelpful ideas. While technology can be a powerful tool, it’s important to think critically about how we use it and the effect it can have before we rely on it too heavily.

What does the data say about anxiety apps?

Depression and Anxiety: The official journal of the ADAA recently published a study conducted to assess commercially available anxiety apps. Researchers analyzed 52 anxiety/worry relief apps that purportedly use psychological techniques. They discovered that 67.3% of the apps were developed without any input from a healthcare professional, and only 3.8% of them had been rigorously tested.

So the people developing anxiety apps may not actually know much about anxiety, and they almost certainly don’t know if their app will really help you.

Authors of the study concluded that while apps have the potential to broaden access to mental health resources, there is currently a major lack of data regarding the efficacy and effectiveness of the available options. As such, the application space has yet to reach its full potential in helping people with anxiety.

What if an anxiety app is helping me?

Of course, the issue here is a lack of data. You may have found an anxiety app that does help you to manage your worry throughout the day. Guided meditations, breathing exercises, and journaling our thoughts and feelings can certainly be useful.

Should I ask Siri or a professional?

However, an app does not replace professional treatment. If you are dealing with anxiety that is impairing your ability to function in your day to day life, it’s important to seek professional guidance.

Human connection is important for our mental health.

Furthermore, while apps may one day prove to be a useful anxiety management tool, they will never replace the human connection that takes place in the context of therapy. In fact, it is actually the therapeutic relationship itself that is the most important aspect of therapy – it accounts for around 30% of the variance in treatment outcome, which is significantly more than any other factor, including the specific techniques used by the therapist (like CBT or mindfulness). This means that who your therapist is, how you relate to them, and the relationship you share is the most helpful part of therapy. An app will never be able to offer this relationship.

Technology may help us manage anxiety, but it may also be a source of anxiety.

Finally, when considering anxiety apps, it is important to note that according to the APA, smartphone use has been linked to higher stress levels, particularly in those who check their phones constantly.

Given the rapid development of technology and its ever broadening influence in our lives, it is important that we stay curious and aware of the potential it has to both help and hinder us, particularly when it comes to something as important as our mental health.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

References:

American Psychological Association (2017). Stress in America: Coping with Change. Stress in America™ Survey.

Sucala, M., Cuijpers, P., Muench, F., Cardos, R., Soflau, R., Dobrean, A., Achimas-Cadariu, P., & David, D. (2017). Anxiety: There is an app for that. A systematic review of anxiety apps. Depression and Anxiety: The official journal of ADAA, 34(6). 518-525. 

 

Misophonia: A “Rarely Known” Conditioned Aversive Reflex Disorder

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Most of us can probably agree that it’s very unpleasant to hear nails scraping a chalkboard. Other sounds that tend to make us cringe include a woman’s scream, a disc grinder (think construction site), and a baby crying. This is because we are genetically wired to respond to a baby’s cry, so any other sound similar in frequency tends to be upsetting (Dozier, 2015).

There are sounds that are almost universally annoying, and then there are those sounds that get to each of us individually. But for some of us, a specific sound can be more than simply annoying or unpleasant; it can be intolerable. Do you find yourself experiencing a particularly extreme or adverse reaction to a sound or stimulus that seems strange or out of proportion? If so, you may be encountering a misophonic reaction.

What is misophonia?

Misophonia is a condition characterized by an extreme, immediate, involuntary emotional response accompanied by a reflexive physiological reaction to a specific, commonly occurring sound or visual stimulus (Dozier, 2015).

Tom Dozier, director of the Misophonia Institute, describes misophonia as a Conditioned Aversive Reflex Disorder. Though misophonia is most commonly identified by the emotional response – typically anger, rage, disgust and even hatred - there is almost always a physiological response that occurs as well. Tom’s research suggests that it is actually the physical response that lies at the heart of misophonia. When a person hears (or sees) their trigger, the autonomic nervous system elicits a reflexive physical reaction. It could be contracting of a particular muscle group or it could be an internal reaction, varying from nausea to a numbing sensation to constriction of the esophagus. Because the intense emotional reaction follows so quickly, the physical response often goes unnoticed. But it appears that the emotional reaction is directly related to the physical reaction. In individuals with misophonia, the connection between the autonomic nervous system and the limbic system (emotional center) becomes hypersensitized (Bernstein, Angell, & Dehle, 2013), such that the trigger stimulus elicits the physical reflex which then elicits the extreme emotions and fight or flight response.

What misophonia is NOT.

Misophonia is not a sensitivity to the volume of the sound; it is not a fear of a sound; it is not becoming upset by a continuous, loud, intrusive, irritating sound; and it is not a logical response to the meaning behind a sound (for example, responding to a baby’s cry is a natural response to address the infant’s distress). It IS the emotional and physiological response to a single occurrence of the trigger, regardless of how loud or noticeable the trigger is.

What are some common triggers?

There is an enormous range regarding potential trigger stimuli. However, some common examples include the eating or chewing sound, breathing sounds, coughing, swallowing, pen clicking, whistling, typing, and a dog barking. A trigger can be any repeating sound or sight. Triggers tend to be most strongly associated with one particular person, but they do have the ability to generalize. For example, the original trigger might be the sound of a sibling chewing. This will likely remain the strongest trigger, but it could also generalize to the sound of any person chewing.

How common is misophonia?

Not very many people know about misophonia, doctors and therapists included. Many people with misophonia struggle with feelings of guilt for their reaction, as they are aware that it is both out of proportion and irrational. They may also feel isolated in their experience. But if you struggle with a misophonic reaction, you are far from alone. It is not a rare disorder, but rather a “rarely known” disorder. Based on several studies and surveys, it is estimated that misophonia affects about 15% of the population (Dozier, 2015), compared with Major Depressive Disorder which, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2016), affects about 6.7% of the population above the age of 18 in a given year.

How does misophonia affect people?

Misophonia can range from manageable to debilitating. If a person’s trigger is fairly uncommon, it may hardly affect him or her at all. However, if a trigger is very common and the reaction is severe, it can lead to avoidance of situations and serious strains on relationships.

Can I get help for misophonia?

If you think that you may be struggling with misophonia, you don’t have to continue to try to handle it alone, particularly if it is something that has begun to impair your day-to-day functioning or affect your relationships. Misophonia can continue to increase in severity if it is left unaddressed, so it is important to know that help is available.  However, because there is not a widespread awareness of misophonia, it can often be misdiagnosed as anything from oppositional defiant disorder to ADHD to anxiety or OCD. So if you are struggling with what sounds like misophonia, it is important to find a professional who understands what you are experiencing and knows how to help.

For more information about misophonia, how it is treated, and related resources, please visit http://misophoniainstitute.org. If you think you or someone you love may be struggling with misophonia, CSAM’s Dr. Michelle Lopez offers specialized treatment at our Rancho Bernardo office. If you would like more information…

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

Please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com if you or someone you love might benefit from treatment for misophonia. We also offer acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, and would be happy to provide more information about our therapy services.

References:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Facts & statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Bernstein, R. E., Angell, K. L., & Dehle, C. M. (2013). A brief course of cognitive behavioural therapy for the treatment of misophonia: A case example. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 6(10), 1-13. doi:10.1017/S1754470X13000172

Dozier, T. H. (2015). Understanding and overcoming misophonia: A conditioned aversive reflex disorder. Livermore, CA: Misophonia Treatment Institute.

How To Listen When Someone You Love Is Struggling

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Life presents us each with challenges.  While it is often uncomfortable and painful to grapple with adversity, to experience this struggle and to feel pain is to be human.  At some point, we will all find ourselves in this place, as will those we love.  So how can we help each other?  How can we listen when someone we love is struggling, whether it is with a mental health condition or with a painful experience in his/her life?

 LET GO OF THE IMPULSE TO TRY TO FIX

Source URL: https://scott-williams.ca/2013/03/

Source URL: https://scott-williams.ca/2013/03/

It is painful to watch someone we care for struggle or hurt.  And it’s natural to want to take away her pain or try to fix the problem at hand.  However, despite our best intentions, trying to “fix” does not actually help.  It tends to make the person struggling feel as though she cannot share her pain, sadness, or anger.  Trying to “fix” sends this message: “I can’t handle seeing you in pain, so I have to make everything better.”  It also implies that it is not okay to feel sad or angry or anxious, and that these feelings should be avoided at all costs.

AVOID ADVICE

Just like our impulse to fix the pain, we also often believe that the best way to help is to offer advice.  But advice is usually not helpful for several reasons.

  1. If we offer good advice, our loved one will think that anytime he is struggling, he needs our instruction. 
  2. If we offer bad advice or our advice doesn’t work as we hoped, our loved one can place the blame on us instead of owning responsibility.
  3. Advice takes away the gift of helping our loved one to realize that she knows herself best, and ultimately she is capable of navigating difficult situations herself.  (Though, of course, she will always have our love and support).

LIMIT SHARING YOUR OWN SIMILAR EXPERIENCES

Source URL:  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/the-biggest-communication-problem-not-listen-understand.html

Source URL:  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/the-biggest-communication-problem-not-listen-understand.html

If you have had a similar experience or believe that you have felt the same way, you can share this with your loved one.  But don’t make it all about you.  Keep your story brief, and make sure the purpose of the story is to let him know that he is not alone.  Also, be sure to include that you understand that your experience, while maybe parallel in some ways, is yours, and you are not claiming to have experienced the exact same situation or feelings.  This allows him to feel comfort in not being alone, but also gives him space to communicate how his experience may be different.

If we shouldn’t try to fix the pain or offer advice, and we should limit how much we share of our own experience, what can we do to help?

REFLECT OR PARAPHRASE BACK TO YOUR LOVED ONE WHAT YOU HEAR HIM/HER EXPRESSING

This shows that we are listening, and gives us the opportunity to clarify that which we don’t understand fully.  While it may sound too simple to just reflect what our loved one is saying, it actually makes the person feel heard and understood.  It also offers her the opportunity to hear what she is expressing, and to clarify how she feels or what she wants.

USE NONVERBAL SIGNALS TO SHOW YOU ARE ENGAGED

Nodding and using eye contact and engaged body language shows that we are interested and open to what our loved one is sharing.  It gives him the space to express himself, and makes him feel heard.

SHOW EMPATHY

Empathy is: “I see that you are struggling and hurting right now, and I am so sorry.  I can’t fix it for you or take it away, but I will sit here with you and listen to your story.  As much as this hurts, it is okay to feel this way.”

Check out Brene Brown’s brilliant short on empathy.

Sometimes, all our loved ones need when they are in pain is to be heard; to be given a space with someone they trust to express how they are feeling.  Sometimes, however, they may need some extra support or professional help.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

REFERENCES:
Brown, B.  (2013, Dec 10).  Brené Brown on empathy. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

 

That Which Fuels the Fire of Anxiety: Unhelpful Thinking Patterns

Jill Stoddard

By Lauren Helm, M.A.

 

 

We’ve all felt it at some point in our lives (likely many times over, in fact), though perhaps it manifested in different ways. You may have noticed the rapidly increasing pitter-patter of your heart, the fast, constricted breaths, the growing tension in your shoulders and neck, clammy hands, or maybe a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach. The experience of anxiety is unpleasant, to say the least, and as it builds, it certainly has a way of getting our attention.

Why do we experience these uncomfortable sensations that we call anxiety? From an evolutionary perspective, fear and anxiety (two related but slightly different emotions) have a function: they keep us alive. More specifically, fear and anxiety are emotions that occur in response to a perceived threat. When we believe that something may harm us or is dangerous, we feel these emotions and they motivate us to protect ourselves from the danger, typically either by avoiding or escaping the threat. Without fear or anxiety, we may not react to truly dangerous situations in an adaptive way, and thus not survive as a species. Imagine walking along and crossing paths with a Grizzly Bear. Would it be helpful to feel no fear, and to run up and hug it? Obviously for most of us, this would not end well! Our emotions give us invaluable information about the environment and about what actions we should take, based on how we feel.

As incredible as our brains are, they also are prone to errors. We are not always able to accurately assess the true amount of danger (or safety) that may be present in our surroundings. Sometimes this means that we may miss a true threat that was present and suffer the consequences. However, in our modern day society, more often than not we experience the opposite – we overestimate the true amount of threat and thereby experience excessive anxiety as a result.

The problem with excessive anxiety is that it can negatively impact the quality of our lives in multiple ways. Prolonged, pervasive anxiety has an impact on our physical well-being, in addition to our psychological well-being. Chronic stress and anxiety can lead to a deterioration of optimal physical functioning, preventing your immune system, digestive system, and heart from performing the best that they can. Chronic anxiety may also interfere with your ability to sleep, eat, and generally function as you’d like to in life.

 

 

 

How does anxiety become problematic? Cognitive-behavioral therapists tend to understand most mood and anxiety disorders using the cognitive triad, which breaks down our experiences into thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. In brief, anxiety is both developed and maintained by an interplay between certain unhelpful thinking and behavioral patterns. For example, anxiety may be perpetuated by certain ways of thinking. A low threshold for perceiving threat (i.e. situations very easily feel threatening) and an attentional bias to threat (i.e. focusing and narrowing your attention on potential dangers that surround you) can contribute to feeling anxiety. In other words, if we easily feel threatened and continue to be on the lookout for threat, we will likely frequently feel anxious. Another thinking pattern that feeds anxiety is called catastrophic thinking. Catastrophic thinking occurs when our mind jumps to imagining worst-case scenarios when we are uncertain about an outcome.  For example, our mind may imagine that our loved one has been involved in a car accident because they still haven’t returned home 30 minutes after they said that they would. Furthermore, probability overestimation occurs  along with catastrophic thinking – this is when we overestimate how likely it is that the “worst-case scenario” has or will occur. When we are feeling anxious, we often feel very certain that the worst-case scenario will occur  even though realistically-speaking, the chances are much lower (or are little to none) that what we fear will actually happen. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to recognize this while we are in the midst of severe anxiety – instead, we may engage in worry orrumination (i.e. brooding) about the many possible negative “what if” scenarios, and use extensive cognitive energy to plan for or prevent potential future threats from occurring. In moderation, worrying and planning for future threats can be helpful, but when it begins to take excessive time and energy (which is quite exhausting), it becomes maladaptive and interferes with your ability to function optimally. More often than not, the cost of worrying exceeds the benefits (it may become a waste of energy) and actually feeds the anxiety that it is intending to placate.

 

These are just a few ways that our patterns of thinking can create and maintain anxiety. In our next blog, we will talk more about unhelpful or inaccurate thinking patterns (also called cognitive distortions) and some suggestions for creating more adaptive ways of thinking and behaving in response to anxiety.

 

 

If you'd like to speak with a professional at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management for help with anxiety, please click here.

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Resources

http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/how-worrying-affects-your-body

http://www.apa.org/divisions/div12/rev_est/cbt_gad.html

 

 

 

References

Barlow, D. H. (2004). Anxiety and its disorders: The nature and treatment of anxiety and panic. Guilford press.

Behar, E., DiMarco, I. D., Hekler, E. B., Mohlman, J., & Staples, A. M. (2009). Current theoretical models of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Conceptual review and treatment implications. Journal of Anxiety Disorders23(8), 1011-1023.

Beck, A. T., Emery, G., & Greenberg, R. L. (2005). Anxiety disorders and phobias: A cognitive perspective. Basic Books.

Sibrava, N. J., & Borkovec, T. D. (2006). The cognitive avoidance theory of worry. Worry and its psychological disorders: Theory, assessment and treatment, 239-256.

Tags: anxietycognitive behavioral thearpyanxiety therapy san diegoanxiety therapyworryCognitive Behavioral TherapyCenter for Stress and Anxiety Managementcognitive distortionsemotion regulationanxiety disordersunhelpful thinking

Part 2: Thriving through the Embrace of Life: Learning to Open through the Pain

Jill Stoddard

Part 2

Thriving through the Embrace of Life:

Learning to Open through the Pain

By Lauren Helm, M.A.

In the first segment of our blog on learning how to thrive, we explored the role that suffering may have in preventing or blocking our ability to live a valued, full life. Part two continues our discussion of thriving versus suffering, and introduces an alternative approach to responding to emotional or physical pain or discomfort.

 

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“Human beings, we have dark sides; we have dark issues in our lives. To progress anywhere in life, you have to face your demons.” – John Noble 

It can be said, in a sense, that in running away from our pain, we are metaphorically running away from our demons. These demons appear large, menacing, and powerful. They wave their limbs in frightening gestures, and offer deafening roars or shrieks when we move close to them. Our instinct is to flee – to run and escape these frightening beings – for fear that irreparable harm will come our way.  However, our constant attempts to hide away from painful events leads to the cycle of suffering that prevents a thriving, full life. Thriving is not happiness without pain. To thrive is to experience the full range of what it means to be human, and to consciously move forward on a path that is in alignment with who you want to be, and with what is important to you. Life is made up of the “good” and the “bad,” or the “pleasurable” and the “painful,” but focusing on removing the bad or the painful is likely to also prevent you from experiencing the beautiful , the awe-inspiring, and the heart-warming types of life experiences.

 

Sometimes it just takes a little willingness to open up to all that life has to offer, even when there is pain involved. This may take a certain degree of faith or bravery, because actively taking steps forward into valued territories often entails some degree of risk. There is risk in opening up to vulnerable but deep love, there is risk in pursuing an education or career path that inspires you but has no guarantees, and there is risk in boldly moving forward when there will likely be a certain level of pain (and growth) in doing so. Openness to the fullness of life on some level requires an acceptance of all that comes with it – the ups and the downs. In fact, an embracing of the twists and turns of life may very well be what leads to the transformation and growth that fosters thriving and well-being. Remember, pain in and of itself is not the problem. Suffering-caused by efforts to avoid pain- leads to the seemingly inescapable vortex of pain, and is a beast that feeds itself through escalating distress and avoidance. It requires extensive time and energy to maintain, and yet convinces us of its necessity. However, paradoxically, the way out of suffering is in “embracing the demons.” The alternative to suffering is thriving, an embracing of life.

 

Metaphorically, this cycle is like feeding a hungry tiger. Dr. Russell Harris, an ACT practitioner, explains how this works: “You discover a baby tiger in your house, and it’s cute and cuddly, so you play with it. Then it gets hungry, and restless, and irritable, so you feed it – and it settles down. But over time, the more you feed that tiger, the bigger it grows - and the more food it needs, and the more aggressive it gets when it’s hungry. Now it’s not cute anymore; it’s scary.  And you spend more and more time feeding it, because you’re terrified that if you don’t, it’ll eat you! But the more you feed it, the bigger it gets” (Harris, 2007).

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an empirically supported treatment that teaches clients to reduce suffering and truly thrive.  ACT is an experiential therapy and so relies on the use of metaphors and experiential exercises to facilitate learning in an experienced way. Metaphors can help us to really connect with concepts and ideas so that we can begin to apply these concepts; so that we can begin to more openly experience difficult life events, instead of automatically avoiding them. So that we can thrive.  Another commonly used metaphor in ACT that illustrates this point is the Chinese Finger Trap Metaphor. The more that you struggle with, and try to escape the finger trap by trying to pull your fingers out of the trap, the tighter the trap becomes. The struggle to control the situation and escape makes it worse. Instead, the way out of the trap is to yield, and bring both fingers closer together within the finger trap. And then it loosens, and you are set free.  Similarly, in the ACT Quicksand Metaphor, the cycle of suffering is represented by the experience of being in quicksand. If you struggle and try to fight your way out of quicksand, you sink more quickly. The way out of quicksand is to make as much contact with the sand as possible, lying on your back, and in doing so, you rise to the surface.

It is through the willingness to make full contact with life, the embracing of the many possible experiences that make us human, that we thrive. There is richness and fullness of life to be found when we creatively choose to embody meaningful living. We can start this process by letting go of trying to control the pain, and committing to act in ways that allow us to thrive.

 

Clinicians who wish to incorporate metaphors and experiential exercises into their therapy practice can check out Dr. Jill Stoddard’s The Big Book of ACT Metaphors here.

 

 

If you'd like to speak with Dr. Stoddard or another professional at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management for help learning about how to “embrace your demons,” please click here.

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References

Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: an overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12(4), 70.

Harris, R. (2007). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) ADVANCED Workshop Handout. Retrieved from: http://www.actmindfully.com.au/upimages/2007_-_advanced_act_workshop_handout.pdf

Hayes, S. C., & Smith, S. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life: The new acceptance and commitment therapy. New Harbinger Publications.

 

 

Tags: anxietyanxiety therapyacceptance and commitment therapyACTstress and anxiety in san diegoCenter for Stress and Anxiety Managementmental healthemotion regulation,anxiety disordersfulfillmentsufferingthrivingpainpersonal values