Ah, the festive season, a time that can be brimming with joy and cheer… but can also be stressful and/or sad and lonely for many of us. Amidst the sparkle and celebrations, pressures like social obligations, financial strain, shopping, cooking, end-of-year work deadlines and family dynamics can brew a storm of emotions. For others, loss and loneliness can be felt very keenly.
In one of our previous posts we already explained Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and today I’ll show you ACT can support a balanced approach to this time of year.
Cracking Open the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Approach
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a therapy powerhouse. It’s all about learning to embrace uncertainty and at times, discomfort, in order to behave in ways that enrich our lives.
For example, we might use mindfulness techniques to help us accept tricky thoughts and emotions, while taking steps that are aligned with our values.
Perhaps we need to have a difficult conversation with someone in order to be authentic: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy would suggest that we don’t wait for the anxiety about the conversation to disappear before we speak, rather, it would suggest that we allow the anxiety to be there while we gently step forward.
This therapy’s mission? Boosting psychological flexibility—living in the now, steering life in line with our values, despite the mental hurdles.
ACT Unwrapped: A Guide to Handling Holiday Stress
Acceptance: Step one? Learn to embrace some stress. Yes, you read that right. Acknowledge that stress is part & parcel of the festive season. If participating in Christmas matters to you (or the significant others in your life), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy encourages us to accept some additional busyness and strain of this time of year because it’s in the service of something that’s important to us (or those we love). When we accept an increase in stress, we are automatically resilient to it. Acceptance is not resignation but a strategic choice to conserve energy for what truly matters.
For those feeling down or lonely during the festive season, ACT encourages us to respond with acceptance and compassion. Can you work to allow yourself to feel these emotions without judging? It’s okay to experience sadness or longing during this season.
Mindfulness: This is a potent ingredient in the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy recipe. Mindfulness acts as your anchor, keeping you focused on the present, preventing you from drifting into worries about what’s passed or what’s to come. Find the practice that works best for you – think conscious deep breaths, meditation, or soaking in the present moment through your senses. See here for some guided audio exercises that may help.
Values Identification: Take a moment to mull over what truly matters to you. Is it cherished time with your tribe, making Christmas special for the kids, having a break from work, giving back to your community, or nurturing your own well-being? ACT nudges us to highlight these values and make choices aligned with them.
We recommend writing a simple list to make sure your values are visually present.
Reflect on the values that hold significance for you, even in the absence or loss of a loved one. Consider honouring their memory by embracing activities or rituals that symbolise their presence or reflect the values you both cherished.
Defusion: this is where we practice stepping back from thoughts, seeing them for what they are: just thoughts. Defusion might be your festive saviour, helping to stop those negative or stressful thoughts from taking over.
Imagine that as you are preparing for a festive gathering, a thought pops into your head, “I always mess things up at these events.” In a defusion exercise, instead of immediately believing this thought and letting it influence your mood or behaviour, you observe it from a distance. You might visualise it as a passing cloud in the sky or even give it a funny voice. By doing this, you create some space between yourself and the thought, recognising that it’s just a passing thought, not an absolute reality. You might playfully say to yourself, “Ah, there’s that ‘I mess things up’ story again. Thanks for sharing, mind!” This simple act of defusion can help you to detach from the thought’s emotional grip, empowering you to choose how you want to respond rather than being dictated by the thought’s influence.
Committed Action: Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy urges us to take committed action, aligning our choices with our values – even when the going gets tough. For example, if feeling connected is important to you then it will be important to reach out to friends, colleagues, acquaintances or family (even through virtual means), join community events or support groups, or dedicate time to self-care activities that bring comfort and peace. It’s important to behave in a way that feels consistent with your values, even if it sparks tricky emotions at times.
Wrapping It Up with a Bow
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) puts you in the driver’s seat in tackling festive season stress. By embracing acceptance, practising mindfulness, and steering actions in line with your values, you can brave the holiday chaos while staying true to yourself. And remember, seeking help from mental health professionals is always a brave and wise move if stress feels overwhelming. Here’s to a festive season where you not only survive, you thrive!
If you are looking for a clinical psychologist in Perth who is specialised in ACT, please get in touch with J&R. We are conveniently located near the Perth CBD in West Perth, and south of the river in Como.Blog overview