How to increase psychological flexibility
Last week we discussed the concept of Psychological Flexibility and the many benefits in particular for individuals suffering from anxiety and depression. As you may recall, low psychological flexibility has been found to predict higher anxiety, poorer work performance, and overall lower quality of life.
Given the risks associated with low psychological flexibility, we’d like to empower you by providing a few tips on how to increase your psychological flexibility.
That’s right, psychological flexibility is malleable; we aren’t “stuck” with a certain level of flexibility for our entire life. Just like with physical flexibility, there are many exercises we can incorporate into our everyday routine in order to improve our psychological flexibility.
Mindfulness is the practice of allowing our mind to be completely conscious in the present moment, in order to increase awareness of our emotions. It involves using our breath and sensory skills to absorb everything in the present, both internally and externally.
The goal of mindfulness is to increase awareness of emotions by allowing our mind to engage in open biophysical exploration. Mindfulness can improve psychological flexibility by increasing our ability to accept whatever comes to our mind without reacting. For example, if we have an anxious thought running through our mind, we can take a moment to stop judging our thoughts and instead just focus on our breath. Turning our attention to the sensation of our breath, allows our mind to shift focus onto our body and our sensory-emotional experience. After a while of concentrating on our feelings, we may notice that our emotional response to the anxious thoughts starts to decrease in intensity.
Looking to try mindfulness out for yourself? There are several resources available to help individuals start a mindfulness practice with relative ease including apps such as Headspace and Pacifica which offer guided practices.
Once we start to become more aware of our thoughts through mindfulness, we may feel the temptation to try and control or block certain thoughts. Returning to our scenario with the anxious thoughts, another option would be to accept or “sit with” our anxious thoughts until we find “rest in it”.
This concept of allowing both our comfortable and uncomfortable emotions that stem from our thoughts to occur without judgment is called acceptance. The goal is for us to simply accept that a particular emotion may exist without taking any action.
Sitting with our emotions is a process that helps us to take our thoughts for what they are instead of labeling them as negative or positive. The objective isn’t to push out certain thoughts or dwell on painful emotions; instead, it is about embracing whatever emotional experience life has to offer us in our present moment.
By allowing our emotions to occur without taking action, we learn how to stop from being pulled into reflexive automatic behavior. This increases psychological flexibility by helping us, in turn, to be less reactive to life’s daily stressors overall.
Working with a licensed therapist can be helpful in teaching us ways to reshape certain unhelpful automatic thought patterns that we may have developed. It is natural for our brain to come up with certain thought patterns instinctively as a means of processing information quicker. Over time some of these patterns may turn out to be harmful, however like a song on repeat, they continue to “load” automatically. By working with a licensed mental health professional we can identify these potential pitfalls, and begin to “rewrite the song” with new helpful patterns of thinking.
Change can be hard; however, the benefits of increasing psychological flexibility can have a significant impact on anxiety, depression, and overall quality of life. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide which, if any, of these techniques is the right fit for you. While the techniques listed above are a great starting point, they are far from an exhaustive list. If you are interested in learning more about psychological flexibility, please reach out to Crump Wellness Services or one of the licensed therapists on Psychology Everywhere for a personalized consultation.
Francisca Oredeko, BBA, is a guest blogger for Crump Wellness Services currently pursuing a Masters in Education in Counseling and Mental Health Services at the University of Pennsylvania.