What is ACT?
One of the therapies used by Clinical Psychologists is called “Acceptance Commitment Therapy” or “ACT”.  You may have found that the “bombshell” of being diagnosed with a physical health condition and the side effects of treatment has put your “normal” life “on hold”.  For some, this means that the things that were important in your life coupled with the things you used to enjoy in life are temporarily lost.  ACT aims to support you to find different ways to reclaim the things that you value in your life.  It focuses on helping you to set yourself small goals to restart the things that you value most in your life, with an emphasis on the importance of your relationships, health, self- development, work and recreational activities.

ACT also helps you to accept the things you cannot change and teaches a technique called  “mindfulness” to manage the difficult emotions and thoughts which understandably arise as a result of having cancer, and perhaps living with ongoing uncertainty about what the future holds.

What is mindfulness?
Do you ever travel on a journey and realise that you don’t know how you’ve got to where you are?  Do you ever have a shower and forget which parts of your body you’ve already washed?  We could describe this as being on ‘automatic pilot’ or ‘mindless’.  We all do this from time to time: do things without paying full attention.  Our minds find it hard to focus on the very present moment and are often busy trying to solve problems, imagining, thinking or planning ahead…our minds are amazing!

But what about when our minds struggle with problems that can’t be solved, imagine awful things which may not ever happen or dwell on upsetting past events which we cannot change?  These thoughts can preoccupy us and make us feel down or worried. Our ‘mindlessness’ can mean that we miss pleasurable moments in daily life. 

Living with a physical health condition may lead you to becoming less active and having more time for your mind to dwell on upsetting thoughts (e.g. upon how life used to be).  This can lead to you trying to push these thoughts away, but this takes effort and often means that the thoughts pop into your head more often.

Mindfulness can be an alternative to this pattern of thinking.  Mindfulness is simply a way to train your attention and teaches us skills to focus on the present moment without judging or getting caught up in difficult thoughts or emotions.  Thousands of studies have shown the physical and mental benefits of mindfulness.  If you are interested in trying mindfulness, click on this link to access some exercises through the audio clips:

(please note this is a self-help website for people living with cancer but the resources can be applied to any long-term health condition).