Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an approach to therapy and supporting people who are struggling with their mental health. There are six core areas of ACT and one area is contact with the present moment (learn more about ACT). People who are struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety will spend a lot of time ruminating about things that have happened, or imaging future fears that may never become a reality. This can have a detrimental effect on their quality of life, and leave the person struggling with feelings of anxiety and/or depression. ACT has been shown to help people who are struggling with depression (Bohlmeijer et al, 2001; Clarke et al, 2014; Hayes & Wilson, 1994). You can learn more about the research around ACT and depression by reading the December 2015 edition.
Being in in the present moment is a skill that can be practised and is fundamental to mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of being present, and not being caught up in our own thoughts, as this can lead to you missing out of the world and life around you (Listen to Steven C. Hayes PhD speak about Mindfulness). The NHS (2018, 20, 11) state that “mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.” This picture depicts Mind FULL and Mindfulness.
Practising being more mindful and in the present moment has shown to be effective at reducing parental stress and reducing challenging behaviours in their children (Singh et al, 2007) and help support classroom management (Kasson & Wilson, 2017). However, meditation isn’t everyone’s cup of tea! Even when I was younger, I would have stuck my nose up at it. So what can you do to reap the benefits if meditation isn’t your thing?
The most important thing is that you find an activity you enjoy and can immerse yourself into. Being present in that activity, listening to sounds, seeing colours, animals or people, smelling pleasant (or unpleasant) smells and feeling the environment around you, will help you feel present. It is important that you do not try to push any unpleasant or difficult thoughts away while you do this activity, this involves acceptance (another area of ACT). Instead, acknowledge those thoughts, and without judgement on yourself return your focus back to your activity. So, why not try one of these?
- Exercise: exercise not only has the benefits already associated with producing positive outcomes in regards to mental health (NHS, 2018, 9, 26) but can be a great way to be present. This can be anything from walking, swimming, riding a bike, or doing a class. Depending on the exercises you choose you can focus on how your body feels doing different movements.
- Yoga: similar to exercise focusing on the stretches and the feel of your body is a great way to be present.
- Reading: immersing yourself in a good book is a great way to be present with the words on the page. Bring to life a story and engage your mind with a sci-fi adventure, a story of star-struck lovers or the story of an idol’s life and their rise to fame. You may find your mind wander during reading, but acknowledge the thoughts and bring your attention back to the story.
- Gardening: something for those who enjoy being outside. You can connect with the outdoors by planting some beautiful flowers or fruit and veg. Enjoy the colours and smells of the great outdoors and rep the benefits of your labour when your plants come into bloom.
- Colouring: a recent trend that is so popular. Intricate colouring books with beautiful pictures can be a great activity to be present and engage your mind in a fun and relaxing activity.
- Listen to music: focusing on your favourite music and the lyrics can be a great way to be present. Listen to the individual instruments and the beat. Dance or sing along if you wish!
- Spring cleaning: This can be a great way to be present. Its an activity that is commonly associated with “clearing your mind” and people say they feel calmer when their homes are less cluttered. Remember the purpose of this is to be present so be aware of the items you see, the smell of the polish and if you find you begin to ruminate, acknowledge your thoughts, and bring your focus and presence back to the activity. You may even uncover some old loved and lost items or photos.
- Go for a walk: This is a good activity to try. Ever walked home from somewhere and you can’t recall the last 5 or so minutes of walking and you wonder how you even managed to get home? Going for a walk and being present can be a great experience, you may notice things around your neighbourhood you’ve never seen before, or speak to people you’ve never spoken to before.
- Have a pamper and/or relaxing bath: this can be a good way to practise being present. Light candles, put on a face mask and/or use a bath bomb. Enjoy the smells, the feel of the water on your skin, if it’s hot or cold and the bubbles.
- Create something: this could include an arts and craft activity, baking, knitting or, may be you fancy something on a bigger scale, like building furniture.
Also, when you plan your activity consider your values. Is this something that will give you more leisure time, or take you towards better health? Is this an activity you can share with someone if relationships is a value of yours. Alternatively, If you do want to try meditation you can find some good apps or clips on Youtube, which are free to use.
Feel free to contact me with any questions or comment below.
Bohlmeijer, E. T., Fledderus, M., Rokx, T.A.J.J, Pieterse, M. E. (2011). Efficacy of an early intervention based on acceptance and commitment therapy for adults with depressive symptomatology, Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49, 62-67.
Clarke, S., Kingston, J., James, K., Bolderston, H., Remington, B. (2014). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy group for treatment-resistant participants: A randomized controlled trial, Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science.
Harper, S. K., Webb, T. L., & Rayner, K. (2013). The Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Interventions for supporting people with Intellectual Disabilities: A Narrative Review, Behavior Modification, 37(3), 431-453.
Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (1999). Acceptance and commitment therapy: An experiential approach to behavior change. New York: Guilford.
Hayes, S. C., & Wilson, K. G. (1994). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Altering the Verbal Support for Experiential Avoidance, The Behavior Analyst, 17(2), 289-303.
Kasson, E. M. & Wilson, A. N. (2017) Preliminary Evidence on the efficacy of mindfulness combined with traditional classroom management strategies, Behavior Analysis in Practice, 10, 242-251.
NHS, (2018, 20, 11). Moodzone: Mindfulness, retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/
NHS (2018, 09, 26). Moodzone: Get Active for Mental Health, retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-benefits-of-exercise/
Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J., Curtis, W. J., Wahler, R. G., McAleavey, K. M. (2007). Mindful parenting decreases aggression and increases social behavior in children with developmental disabilities, Behavior Modification, 31(6), 749-771.
Tourinho, E. Z. (2006). Private Stimuli, Covert responses, and private events: Conceptual remarks, The Behavior Analyst, 29(1), 13-31.
Busy Analtyical Bee (2015, 12, 01), December 2015, retreived from: https://busyanalyticalbeedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/busyanalyticalbeedec15-1.pdf
Busy Analytical Bee (2018, 11, 01) November 2018, retrieved from: https://busyanalyticalbeedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/busyanalyticalbeenov18.pdf
NICABM (2012, 10, 18), Mindfulness Meditation – How mindfulness works to overcome painful emotions, retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9neemBc004&list=PL_wXbJqg9HUq5jk3k1R4Tgemdmap6np3y&index=1
Joseph Rhinewine, (2013, 01, 25) Mindfulness in Acceptance and Commitmnet Therapy (ACT), part 1: Contact with the present moment, retreived from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYPcPh4H3bE