Have you ever felt like your pain takes a lot of space in your brain? Or that the more you think about easing your pain, the more it takes away from other things in your life? If so, acceptance and commitment (ACT) might be a good approach for you. ACT comes from the idea that pain hurts, but it is the ongoing struggle with pain that causes people to suffer. With ACT, you can learn to accept that you have pain, but that you don’t have to put your life on pause to manage it.
The first step of ACT is to accept your pain. Most people spend a lot of effort trying to get rid of their pain. How much energy do you put into fighting negative thoughts and feelings about your pain? As odd as it sounds, mental attempts to “fix” your pain can cause more harm than good. Think of it this way: compare the force it takes to hold a beach ball underwater (i.e., fighting your pain) versus the energy it takes to let it go and allow it to float at the surface (i.e., accepting the sensation of pain in your body).
Beyond letting yourself accept pain, the ACT approach asks you to commit to taking actions that will get you the things you love. Take a moment to reflect on what gives your life meaning, whether it’s your health, relationships, career, or other things. Ongoing pain can cause you to lose touch with what you value. You might even try to avoid things that are important to you because you are focused on your pain. In ACT, it’s key to define your values and choose actions that move you to things that give your life meaning. When you focus on your values, you can keep doing what you care about — even when you’re having pain or have to adjust how you do things.