An international study of over 9,500 people from 78 countries recently published findings that “suggest that public health initiatives should target people without social support and those whose finances worsen as a result of the lockdown. Interventions that promote psychological flexibility may mitigate the impact of the pandemic.” Are you wondering how to help your loved one suffering from an eating disorder or other mental health issues during the pandemic? Read on for how support persons can promote psychological flexibility with help from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
What is Psychological Flexibility?
Oftentimes, those who are available and want to offer support wonder how best to do so. As the study above suggests, interventions that promote psychological flexibility may be helpful. So what is psychological flexibility? As defined by Kashdan and Rottenber psychological flexibility “spans a wide range of human abilities to: recognize and adapt to various situational demands; shift mindsets or behavioral repertoires when these strategies compromise personal or social functioning; maintain balance among important life domains; and be aware, open, and committed to behaviors that are congruent with deeply held values.”
Steven Hayes and colleagues developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) almost 40 years ago and have been studying the processes by which people can increase psychological flexibility in over 400 randomized controlled trials. One of those core processes in ACT is a focus on who and what is important to you -- in other words, what you value in life. Another core process is committing to actions that take you towards what you value.
My Experience Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
In my clinical experience of using ACT in the treatment of eating disorders and other mental health issues, it always impresses me how much time people spend on the struggle of how to solve the problems in their life and how little time is spent on the things that truly matter. In my view, this imbalance is a call to action for support persons. If we can help loved ones focus on things they can do to move towards a life worth living, we will be promoting two researched, evidenced-based processes that can help increase psychological flexibility.
How do you put ACT into practice? Here are a few suggestions:
Before I wrap things up, I want to encourage those who are supporting loved ones to take a look at these same processes. My guess is that you value relationships and family, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. I absolutely want to give you permission to spend time with who and what you value too, allowing you to promote your own psychological flexibility and mitigate the impact of this pandemic! It is with small steps that we can make lasting changes. A little shift can steer you towards a much different destination.
Social support can come in the form of family, friends, online support groups, therapy, and more. Please visit my resource page for some helpful links.
For more information, check out my website or reach out to me via my contact page. I offer free, 30-minute consultations to new clients.
¹Gloster AT, Lamnisos D, Lubenko J, Presti G, Squatrito V, Constantinou M, et al. (2020) Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health: An international study. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0244809. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0244809 Editor: Joel Msafiri F
²Todd B. Kashdan, Jonathan Rottenberg, Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health, Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 30, Issue 7, 2010, Pages 865-878, ISSN 0272-7358, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.001.
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