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Allowing the light in...

How to uncover and change unhelpful thought patterns

· Mindfulness,Compassion,CBT

SPRING is here and we should all feel HAPPY!

Spring has arrived and all the joys (and sorrows) that come with more LIGHT…

Many people in northern climates can’t wait for the weather to change, for the snow to melt, the flowers to bloom and hopefully more LIGHT…

We have more hours of daylight and hopefully more sun. Sunshine can be so addictive. I was out yesterday in the park and it was amazing how many people came out to enjoy the sunny weekend day.  Most people were in a good mood, happy that its finally (?) arrived and happy to not need to wear so many layers and to be comfortable just sitting and being outside.

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BUT I don't feel HAPPY...

When the weather changes not everyone feels so joyous. There are actually many individuals who feel more sad and or depressed.  When everyone else seems to be reveling in the change of season, becoming more active, socializing with friends and family they find themselves often feeling more sad and lonely.  Various familiar thoughts creep in like old friends.    

'Once again everyone is outside enjoying themselves and here we are hiding out and isolating and becoming more depressed.'

'You will never find the happiness you see everyone else seems to be feeling.'

If you are single, you might feel the tinge of jealousy connected to seeing other happy couples, as they so proudly display their joy in the Spring, especially if its new love. You might want to be in a relationship, but you struggle with putting yourself out there, risking being vulnerable and fearing rejection. If you are in a relationship, you may find yourself comparing your relationship to all the other happy couples and wonder, 'why can’t I have that?'

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So much of our suffering is connected with our thoughts and our stories about ourselves, so much of our suffering continues as we allow these thoughts to guide us, even if we know better, even if we know that we’ve been down this road many times & it never ends well for us…

Does AVOIDANCE of our pain really help?

And its not just suffering connected to feelings of anxiety and or depression, but there is also suffering related to how our life is impacted as a result of our anxiety and depression. We isolate, we avoid and we numb resulting in missing out on a lot of activities that could provide relief from our pain.

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Stephen Hayes, creator of the Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT),

Describes these two sources of pain as:

1) Pain of presence : Issues that are present that we prefer would go away.

2) Pain of absence: Pain caused by the pain of presence that prevents us from living fully.

We believe our thoughts are real, and we become attached to the associated feelings. As opposed to 'I feel depressed/ anxious,' we say to ourselves, ‘I am depressed’ or 'I am anxious.' By identifying with our pain & suffering we find it very difficult to see life without this lens.

The Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) approach encourages us through mindfulness to see our thoughts (by being mindful) and begin moving towards accepting all of who we are through a lens of self-compassion.

"Acceptance is the willingness to give up the struggle to control our unwanted inner experience." Stephen C. Hayes

So instead of trying to avoid our pain, we let go of our attempts at control. Sounds scary, I know. But has this method of avoidance really been working for us? Acceptance doesn't mean to grin and bear it, but rather open up to our inner life, with the aim of increasing our psychological flexibility to live in alignment with our values. It takes a lot of courage to take this step, but isn't it worth it?

I would gather to say that most people would be able to identify with one or more of these statements connected to avoiding pain…

  1. When I close myself off from painful parts of my past, I also close myself off from the helpful things I’ve learned in my past
  2. My experience tells me that pushing my pain away (not accepting) just doesn’t work
  3. It is a normal human process to feel pain, and it is inhumane and without compassion to try and hold myself to a different standard.
  4. I’m sick and tired of my pain and have suffered enough.
  5. Living in the moment seems more rewarding than living in my mind.
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If any of these thoughts resonate with you, I encourage you to begin thinking about

acceptance and commitment to being ones best and kindness self…

How do we do this? How do we practice ACT?

Begin practicing Cognitive Defusion, which is another word for detachment, as in detaching from our thoughts/ cognitions. This is one of the CORE steps. I will review more topics relevant to ACT in later blogs, but if you can MASTER this technique you are on your way to acceptance!

"Defusion is taking off your glasses and holding them out several inches from your face so you can see how they make world appear yellow, instead of seeing only the yellow world." Stephen C. Hayes

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How to practice Cognitive Defusion:

Begin practicing MINDFULNESS (See previous post:

This allows us to begin seeing our thoughts as just thoughts, to detach and defuse:

'There goes my mind again…'

EXAMPLES of Cognitive Defusion

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-Imagine the thoughts as leaves floating on a moving stream.

-Thank your mind as it is doing what it was designed to do: problem-solve and avoid danger

-Ask yourself if the negative thoughts are acceptable, and work towards YES

-Imagine the negative thoughts are Internet pop-up ad

-Imagine the thoughts as passengers on the bus, and you are driving them around without doing what they say or trying to get them to leave.

-Practice noticing thoughts 'I’m noticing self judgment right now… '

-Label the thoughts:

'I am having the thought/ feeling that…. '

(Describe as opposed to just thinking & feeling , avoid judging)

'I am feeling tightness in my chest...' vs ‘This anxiety is unbearable’

ACCEPTANCE is hard but ultimately it WORKS...

By beginning to practice mindfulness, we are beginning to accept ourselves. Mindfulness allows us to practice this act of detachment or defusion, which gives us some space to question if the thought is true and then determine how we want to respond.

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If you would like some help and guidance towards being more accepting of oneself, and ultimately living your life more fully by embracing all the joys and sorrows that come your way this season please contact me at

I would love to assist you in appreciating all that the LIGHT of the season brings.

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Julie Madlin, LMHC, RD, CDE