Using ACT to Get Unstuck

When anxiety and depression find their way into your world, whether personally, with a family member or dear friend, they have a way of getting us stuck, and pull us from the things we care most about. It’s as if you are frozen, clinging to a boulder, afraid to look around, wanting to go upward, and unsure of the next step. In Acceptance and Commitment therapy, or ACT, this “stuckness” is called psychological inflexibility.

The experience of seeing the things we care about slip out of our grasp, finding our minds swirling with unhelpful thoughts, and living life controlled by our inner experiences is incredibly painful. Yet, research shows that painful moments are part of a meaningful life, and struggling with our inner experiences in fact makes them more painful (Hayes, 2019). So, what is the alternative? ACT is an evidence based approach to well-being that supports individuals in making room for uncomfortable thoughts and feelings while nonjudgmentally returning to the present and engaging in valued living.

Simply, psychological flexibility has three parts (Hayes, Strosahl, and Wilson, 2015):


  • Open– Accept and allow your full experience…All of it, even the hard stuff. Remember, we cannot fight the present, and doing so makes it worse.

  • Aware– Be present, observe, and step back from your thoughts. Hooked again? It simply means your human. Notice the thought has surfaced, and be an observer rather than a participant.

  • Engaged– Take steps toward what you deeply care about. Your values are your compass. Freely chosen and always available.


What does this look like in your life? First, remember that you are a whole, complete human being, and acknowledge everyone struggles sometimes (Neff, 2015). You have all that you need for this climb, and you’ll likely find yourself stuck on the rock at some point, so “chalk up:” choose to climb with awareness of all your ascent entails.

How do you want to climb the mountain that is your life? What matters most at this moment? And what is the next small move you can make in a direction that you care about?


Hayes, S. C. 2019. A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters. New York: Avery.

Hayes, S. C., K. D. Strosahl, and K. G. Wilson. 2012. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:

The Process and Practice of Mindful Change. 2nd ed. New York: Guilford Press.

Neff, K. 2015. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. New York:

William Morrow.

Written by: Katy Rothfelder, LPC-A

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