August 10, 2023

Feeling Blah? Feel Better With Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

So many people try to hide their age and keep their birthdays quiet as if they want to wish the day away. Not Pat Woytek!

After joining our LIVEstream, and in honor of her milestone bday, she sent me this text:

Loved class today and I am proud to join the 70s club. You and the rest of the class inspire to move jump and sing. You have made it so much easier to grow old or more accurately to stay young. (Happy Birthday, Pat!!) 

Some of you may not share Pat’s enthusiasm for aging and getting a delicious sweat, but if you spent time in her sneakers, you would understand loud and clear.

A couple of decades ago, Pat’s body was riddled with cancer. Against all odds, she survived. Knowing the feeling of being too weak to dance, and knowing how vigorous exercise is key to cancer prevention, Pat celebrates each and every Mojo opportunity to move and shake her booty. She ROCKS it out!

As you can see, her hard work has paid off. She looks fantastic! I am honored and thrilled that Mojo continues to be such a vital part of her fitness journey after all these years. 

Pat’s energy is uniquely resilient, positive, and gratitude-filled, but this kind of emotional strength did not just happen to her. People, like Pat, constantly work at it.

Just like hard-to-reach tricep muscles that need a little extra attention now and then, emotional strength is a hard-to-reach muscle grouping that needs to be continuously cultivated.

For those who struggle with the blahs, you are not alone. Everyone does now and then. Wanna feel better?  The ACT Method was recently introduced to me by my fave blogger Eric Barker. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), is a method of self-talk that can help us navigate our way out of the doldrums that has been hugely successful, even with people suffering from full-blown depression.

Don't Be Fooled. People aren't who they post to beUnlike Facebook and Instagram posts, life is not a continuous string of happy moments. It’s a beautiful tapestry of complex experiences, memories and emotions stitched together. The sooner we accept our life’s perfectly imperfect nature, the happier we can be. 

If you are reading this email, it’s likely you are a wellness enthusiast, like me. In addition to firmer abs and healthier skin, I’m always looking for ways to help my pesky, over-zealous brain relax and reside more comfortably in the present moment. 

The Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) encourages us to be more cognizant of our negative thoughts and confront them head on, instead of avoiding and burying them- which tends to make them worse. ACT has been so effective that it has even helped with treatment-resistant depression. 

Feeling blue? Let’s Get to it!
1) Get Off Autopilot! Researchers estimate only 5% of our behavior is truly intentional. Most of the time we put little thought into what we’re doing. Sometimes we get stuck in bad mental judgment and stories we tell ourselves, but we don’t step back and question them. It can become an endless dance of self-sabotage. ACT says that depression isn’t something you have, it’s the result of what you do. The bad mental habits get us stuck in a loop that perpetuates the negative results.

Everyone knows that exercise is key to bringing happy chemicals to our brain (endorphins) and ward off disease etc. Are you one to keep devising ever more elaborate excuses to dodge a good sweat? The more time we spend tripping over our own emotional baggage, the more our life sadly shrinks in the process.

Unfortunately, we can’t prevent thoughts and feelings from showing up, but ACT teaches us that being more cognizant of our self-perpetual head games can help us resolve some of our most troubling behaviors. 

Being mindful is key. Becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings – and realizing are just thoughts. They do not have to be obeyed. The goal is to be less reactive – blindly following our bad mental habits – and start making conscious choices that reflect our values. Following the same old scripts is like being stuck in an elevator with the most dreadful person you know — only to realize that person is you.

So how should we handle it when negative emotions keep popping up?

Here’s how to get happier:
2) Openness No need to change anything just yet. Just take a moment to notice the negative feelings that pop up. It’s all about breaking free from our destructive autopilot mode.

It’s not easy. You’re going to want to respond impulsively on those bad habits. To shout, give up, suppress or avoid. All of which makes things worse.

Instead of making excuses, understand you are in denial. Observe what you’re feeling and don’t judge it or react. Don’t get all caught up in the awfulness. Examine them in a critical, nuanced way like an oenophile with a glass of wine.

3) Acceptance vs. denial By and large, we can’t choose how to change internal events like spontaneous feelings or thoughts. So what we do with things we can’t change? We accept them. This is where true resilience comes from. It’s not suppression or avoidance. It’s acknowledging and accepting, but not giving in.

How do we make this stop?

4) Detachment One of the keys to mastering ACT is learning to detach ourselves from our negative thoughts and feelings. 

  • Give the feeling a nickname. If it has a name, it’s not you. And the thought or feeling probably deserves a name because you’ve likely met it many times before. “Okay, Saddy, I hear you.”
  • Thank your mind. Your brain is just trying to help you, following those same (bad) habits it’s always followed. Treat it like a child that is trying to help but isn’t doing a very good job of it. “Thank you, mind.”
This may sound a little silly and may take practice, but naming it or thanking your mind disassociates those bad feelings from your brain, dwindling the power it has over your actions.

What now?
5) Act On Your Values You’re not impulsively reacting to negative thoughts and feelings. That’s great. Now it’s time for the big questions: What do you want life to be? Who do you want to be?

If exercise is a value you’re trying to instill…
  • I want to have more energy to enjoy my family
  • I want to feel sexier for my partner
  • I want to live a long, healthy and vibrant life 
You paused the onslaught of negative thoughts. You defined your values. Now it’s time to act on them. Wishing, dreaming or manifesting will not get you there. It’s time to move toward being the person you want to be.

When you’re feeling down, doing all this stuff can feel like a lot. Like you don’t have what it takes. And that’s where the final key comes in: self-compassion.

People who practice self-compassion experience lower levels of depression and anxiety. When we know it’s normal to experience problems, they don’t overwhelm us. Everything gets easier when you remember we all have bad days, and we all occasionally screw up when trying to make them better. You’re a “work in progress.” We all are.

Simply trying your best, and taking a step (s) forward is reason to feel immense pride and JOY for the beautiful person you are and life you have been gifted.

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