I’m fairly new to running and this week it showed. I use an app that gradually increases time and distance. Suddenly, the strategies I used to support myself in jogging for two minutes were no longer helpful when asked to run for twenty. I couldn’t catch my breath, find my rhythm or effectively deal with my negative inner dialogue. I struggled to make it by grit and will-power alone. This made me think of the work we do with clients.
We all have seasons of life where we are simply surviving, doing what we need to do to get through the next day, the next hour or even the next minute. And there’s no shame in this. Life can be incredibly difficult and painful at times; this is part of the human experience for each and every one of us.
We may find; however, that these ways of moving through the world – think avoiding difficult conversations, hours of mindless scrolling, expending energy to keep “bad” emotions at bay, constant people-pleasing or keeping busy to avoid ourselves – are less sustainable over time or that the cost of these strategies simply becomes too high. We might find that the very things that helped us to survive are now robbing us from authentically connecting with ourselves and/or showing up for the people most important to us. This can show up in our lives as stress, anxiousness, feeling burned-out, depressed or unsatisfied – we might feel as if we’re moving through our lives on autopilot.
In ACT we use a choice point to help us understand our options. We consider questions like: What is it that gets us stuck? How do we typically react when we feel stuck, discouraged or overwhelmed? How are the ways we’re responding helpful? How are they a hinderance? We give time and space to hear the story, acknowledging with kindness and compassion the ways in which we’ve learned to cope that have served a purpose but no longer fit.
We have a decision to make. Are we going to continue doing the same things we’ve always done hoping for different results? Or, are we willing to make space for uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that will undoubtably arise while practicing new skills and strategies in order to move us toward our values, toward becoming the kind of person we want to be for ourselves and for others in our life?
I’ll lace up my shoes and get back to running, focussing on breath control and rhythm during my short sprints. And just maybe, with some willingness and practice doing something that feels odd and unnatural, I’ll be ready with some skills to successfully tackle the further distances.
Melissa Verheyen, M.A., is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) who practices acceptance and commitment therapy and offers virtual services for client living in Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick. To book a session, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or phone (306) 694-HOPE (4673).