Diffusion of thoughts and emotions, the ACT way

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Recently I have been using techniques from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) with some of my clients as a way of helping them to manage difficult emotions such as anxiety, fear and anger. ACT is an evidence-based adjunct to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and the techniques lend themselves well to being used within hypnosis.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share the three core processes of ACT my clients have been finding useful of late so that you can benefit from them too.

Techniques used within ACT are quite different to the usual techniques that I present here on this blog to help with reducing negative thoughts and anxiety. These techniques do not seek to reduce either of these, but allowing the symptoms or sensations, such as anxiety, to come and go without letting it drag you down or hold you back from doing anything. Often symptom reduction occurs as a result of using these techniques, but it is rather a by-product as opposed to the goal.

With many people who experience anxiety and fear, they avoid situations in order to minimise their anxiety. You can watch me talk about avoidance behaviours in more detail here. However, in the long term, this often has the opposite effect. With these techniques, you are learning to not run away from the emotions or thoughts, nor are you wallowing in them, but instead learning how to handle them so that you can live your life.

In the first post of this three part series, I am going to be talking about Diffusion. The aim of the diffusion process is to notice thoughts, rather than being entangled in them. It helps you to see thoughts as what they are – simply pictures, words, and sounds. I’m going to explain 4 different ways of defusing thoughts, although there are many other ways to do it too.

  1. Thank your mind. When you notice thoughts running through your mind, simply thank your mind by saying “Thanks mind”. Don’t be sarcastic with it, aim to say it with warmth and kindness.

  2. Notice that you are having the thought. When you become aware of unhelpful thoughts, for example, “I am lazy”, say to yourself “I’m having the thought that I am lazy” then go on to say “I’m noticing that I am having the thought that I am lazy”. What you are doing here is taking away some of the emotion around the thought by distancing yourself from it. You’ll begin to recognise it as a thought rather than a fact.

  3. Name the story. We all have stories that we play through in our mind. Sometimes the same ones come up time and time again. The details might change slightly but the overall theme is the same. When you notice yourself playing out that familiar story, name it. Name the story, for example “The I’m Lazy Story”. From then on, every time that story plays out in your mind, recognise it, greet it even, again with warmth and kindness.

  4. Put it on the TV. If you have thoughts running through your mind, especially if they are accompanied by images or a movie, imagine putting them up on a TV screen in front of you. Let it play through whilst you edit it. You can flip the image, make it play backwards, speed it up or slow it down, make it black and white, add a soundtrack, add subtitles, turn the brightness and contrast up or down, The possibilities are endless so be creative!

I particularly like number 2 on this list - it is surprisingly helpful. In my experience, it seems to change the original thought from being a fact, to just a thought by adding just a few words to the beginning of it. It takes the sting away from the original thought and diffuses the emotion attached to it.

Do let me know how you get on with these techniques. In the next post in this series, I will discuss Engagement.