Chronically Living and how to make the most of it

Who Should Be Contacting the Present Moment?

October 04, 2021 Kelsey Harris Season 2 Episode 15
Chronically Living and how to make the most of it
Who Should Be Contacting the Present Moment?
Show Notes Transcript

One of the 6 Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) processes is Contacting the Present Moment. And guess what?! ACT has a huge evidence base for helping people with chronic pain and chronic illness, as well as mental health. But how do we do this (in a way that isn't formal meditation)? That's what we're exploring this week.
In this episode we talk about:

  • the 6 processes in ACT
  • "mindfulness" for chronic pain and illness
  • why we need to drop the struggle
  • dropping anchor (experiential)

The recommended self-help reading is "The Happiness Trap" by Russ Harris.
Click the link for a guided version of Dropping Anchor.

Follow the show on Instagram @chronically.living_  and on Twitter @janevspain and on Facebook @ Chronically Living.
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Kelsey Harris:

I used to get so consumed about my chronic pain. Like if I was in pain, I literally couldn't think about anything else feel anything else physically, I would get so much anxiety or feel depressed. I literally bailed on plans and just don't wanted to stay in bed. Does this sound like you? Have you ever wondered how you can get out of that cycle and have an actual life? Who should be contacting the present moment? Well, you had me and all of us. So that's what we're talking about this week on chronically living. I'm Kelsey Harris, chronic illness warrior and psychotherapist on chronically living and how to make the most of it, we're providing tangible ways to improve the well being of spoonies. So get ready to make the most out of your life even with that pesky chronic illness. Hey, everyone, thanks for tuning in this week. So I wanted to present the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy hexaflex to all of you over a number of solo episodes, because ACT, that's what we call it is one of those evidence based treatments for chronic pain that we talked about earlier this season. And if you haven't listened to that episode, yet, I recommend doing so right after this one. And also, it is an evidence based treatment for chronic illness and a variety of mental health issues. It was developed by Stephen C. Hayes in the 1980s, and was originally designed to treat panic disorder. But now it has a larger evidence base for chronic pain and chronic illness than for anything else. This is the primary model of therapy that I use with my clients because I do specialize in chronic pain and chronic illness. Now, this isn't a therapy session for all of you, but rather some psycho education on how you can use some of this on your own. And at the end of the episode, I am going to give you some recommended self help reading material as well. So if you wanted to take this a little further on your own. So the hexaflex is just a really fancy way of saying that there are six processes in Act that we work through in no particular order. And these processes increase our psychological flexibility, which ultimately improves our well being and quality of life. If you listen to the creative hopelessness episode, that is an app technique that we use with people who are hesitant about making changes. If you haven't listened to that episode yet, and you are hesitant, then I would recommend listening to that one first. And then coming back to this one. If you're ready to make some changes, then keep on listening. Because I could start anywhere in the hexa flex, I really pondered and change my mind a bit about where to start with all of you. Particularly I went back and forth between two processes that we've already discussed on the show. But I felt like I could present them a little more thoroughly or in a new way. So I decided to start with contacting the present moment. Why? Because this is usually where I start with clients. And I think it really gets us rolling. contacting the present moment is like mindfulness. Well, it is mindfulness. But so are three of the other active processes. So this is not specifically mindfulness. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but to stick with me. So I want to point out that mindfulness doesn't necessarily mean meditation, but it can include meditation. So let me quote Russ Harris when it comes to mindfulness and act. Mindfulness is a set of psychological skills for effective living that involve paying attention with openness, curiosity, kindness, and flexibility. So one way to use mindfulness throughout your day, and thereby contacting the present moment throughout the day is just to notice x, or observe x, or focus on x, or pay attention to x, or be aware of or bring awareness to x. And x can really stand for anything from your thoughts, to your feelings, to your body posture, to sensations, to smells, sights, tastes, sounds, and on and on and on. But the point is by really noticing x, whatever that may be, we're being very present in the moment. If you are still feeling a bit skeptical about how mindfulness or in this case, specifically, contacting the present moment can help you with your illness. Let me share some quotes from Jon Kabat Zinn. So he's a medical doctor who started the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program. And this program mbsr has helped 1000s of people with chronic pain and illness around the world. So this is a quote from his book Full Catastrophe Living. One woman with breast cancer had the insight while she was meditating that day, that she was not her cancer. She saw vividly in one moment that she was a whole person, and that her cancer was a process that was going on within her body. Prior to that, her life had been consumed with identifying with the disease and with being a cancer patient. Realizing that she was not her cancer made her feel freer. She was able to think more clearly about her life, and decided that she could use having cancer as an opportunity to grow and live more fully. for however long she had to live in making the commitment to live each moment of her life as fully as possible, and to use her cancer to help her rather than showering blame or pity on herself for having it. She was setting the stage for healing, for dissolving the mental boundaries that can find her for coming to terms with what she was facing. After the break, we're going to talk about dropping the struggle and emotional control strategies. 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With instacart you'll never step foot in the grocery store again. So here's another quote from Full Catastrophe Living. There is a wide range of compelling evidence that the mind was a major participant in illness and could be a major factor in health as well inspired widespread interest in mind body interactions and then taking responsibility for one's own health, rather than waiting for it to break down under stress, and then counting on medical care to make things better. Okay, let's face it, the medical system is limited. And that's probably why you're here listening to this podcast, looking for alternative ways to heal. And as Gabor Mate points o t in his book When the Body S ys No, the word heal is kind o problematic. But we're all j st save that for another e isode. So what do I mean when I say drop the struggle? So l t's think about it this way. Y u know, an adventure movies, h w someone inevitably ends up i quicksand. I don't know how t is always happens, but it s ems to and the person who has f llen in just starts to s ruggle and freak out, which I t ink is probably natural, p obably most of us would do t at. Well, the thing is, the m re he or she struggles, the f ster they go under, which is a tually how quicksand works in r al life. But do you know how t actually survive if you fall i to quicksand, you have to stop s ruggling, lie back and spread o t, you'll actually float to t e top. And then you can take s me very slow swimming strokes t get out. So which is it, s ruggle and drown? lie back and f oat? Trust me, I know that i 's psychologically harder to l e back and float as far as e otional control goes. And I d n't want you to get confused w th emotional regulation b cause emotion regulation is s mething else entirely and r ally important for managing e otions properly in different c ntexts. But emotional control i us thinking that we can c mpletely control all of our t oughts and feelings all the t me. And that's just not how o r minds work. If you don't b lieve me, let's try a little e ercise together. So try not to t ink about what I'm going to s y. No thinking about it. Even f r a split second. Here it is. C ffee. Don't think about when y u drink your coffee or how you t ke your coffee. Don't think a out what your coffee tastes l ke. How'd you do? My my guess i probably not well The more we t y not to think about our t oughts and feelings, usually t e more intense they become. B sically, what I'm saying is t at this is likely not working f r you. Okay, so I have one m re quote from full catastrophe l ving. Ultimately, the effects o our thoughts and emotions on o r beliefs comes down to the a tivity of the brain and n rvous system, and how p ofoundly and immediately they c n influence our physiology. T is means that how we are in r lationship to our thoughts and e otions can make a huge d fference in the quality of our l ves and our health, both in t e present moment, and over t me. So next, we're going to t lk about and then do an e ercise together that can help u contact the present moment, d opping anchor. So this is an technique that I usually teach all my clients in the first or second session. And this includes clients who tell me they don't like mindfulness. So if you're saying to me, right now, I think, you know, I don't like mindfulness, I can't do this. Now. That's okay. Even the ones who don't like mindfulness seem to like this. So in fact, I've only had one client ever tell me that didn't like it, slash couldn't do it. And ultimately, actually had to go back to creative hopelessness with that client. So perhaps that is why, though, I'm not gonna say that this technique works perfectly for everybody. But a variation of it is used in many therapeutic modalities. And it has been shown to be, in general, very helpful practice. So this technique helps us really get present in the moment. And I learned it from an act textbook by Russ Harris. And by the way, he has a million YouTube videos that I recommend as well. And he suggests using dropping anchor for emotional dysregulation, hypo arousal, hyper arousal, dissociation, overwhelming emotions, impulsive behavior, compulsive behavior, extreme fusion, which I'll explain in a sec, flashbacks and panic attacks. And I've used it with clients for most of these reasons. The one most applicable to spoonies is extreme fusion. So fusion basically means that we get hooked by our thoughts, feelings and sensations, and therefore cannot focus on anything else. Does getting hooked by physical pain or thoughts about your illness, or sadness, or anxiety about your illness, or another physical symptom of your illness sound familiar to you, you literally can't focus on anything else. If it does, then contacting the present moment is something that will definitely be helpful for you. Or I guess I shouldn't say definitely, probably will be helpful for you. And I want to make a guarantee here. So why is it called dropping anchor? Let's think of it this way. Imagine that you're on a boat. And this can either be on the ocean or a lake. And you see a big storm coming in dark clouds, maybe some Thunder off in the distance. And so you head for the harbor. And as you get there, what is the first thing that you are going to do so that your boat doesn't get blown away? drop anchor. So it's the same with emotional storms, we want to drop anchor so we don't get blown away by thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories, or urges. So if you are ready and able, let's do it together. Obviously, if you're listening to this in the car, probably not a good idea to practice it right now. But if you're at home, office out for a walk even just take a moment to do this with me. So first, I want you to acknowledge the difficult thoughts, feelings and sensations that are showing up for you right now. And as you do that, I want you to press your feet into the floor, really feeling what the floor feels like beneath you. If you're sitting, I want you to sit up straight, and notice what the chair feels like beneath you. Take a stretch with your arms if you can, noticing what it feels like to move them. Again, acknowledge all the painful thoughts, feelings and sensations that are there. That this is a difficult time for you. Take a moment to acknowledge what kind of pain This is. say here's anxiety, or here's back pain. Or here's a painful memory. Notice that though all these painful thoughts and feelings and sensations are here. There's a body surrounding them. body that you can move slowly Move your body. Just notice your body moving and stretching. Again, press your feet into the floor. Look around the room. Notice five things you can see. Notice three or four things you can hear. Notice all the difficult thoughts and feelings and sensations that you're struggling with. And also notice the position of your body. Notice that all these thoughts, feelings and sensations are within your body, your body surrounds them. The room surrounds your body. Just notice that room around you. Or if you're outside, notice the whole world around you. Take a final stretch. Okay, so sometimes we call this a grounding technique. But whether you consider it to be grounding or just getting really present, the benefit is that your experience is far more than the difficult or painful things that you're dealing with. And getting present is just one way we can improve our well being. I do have a recorded guided version of this on my YouTube channel, which I will link in the show notes as well. If you want to be able to continue to this on your own. I do recommend practicing it even when you're not feeling distress because it will make it easier to use when you are. So here's an easy way to remember how to do this. It's the acronym ace. acknowledge your inner experience. Come back to your body engage with the world. I think that reflection is really important after this type of exercise as well. So what did you notice as far as your inner experience goes while you dropped anchor? What are you noticing about you're noticing? What about for this entire episode? What did you notice? What are you noticing about you're noticing now the recommended self help reading I wanted to tell you about it's called The Happiness Trap and t's by Russ Harris. And it's xactly this kind of stuff all ct based and meant for self ope. Next week, I have another uest on for you. And the next ime I do a solo episode we'll o another process from the hexaf ex. Until then, keep making t e most of everyone. Special t anks to Nicole Skura for the or ginal music and to Charity Wi liams for original artwork