Life After COVID-19: Moving Towards Valued Living with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

By: Dr. Gabriela Sadurní Rodríguez and Dr. Jamie Long 

In times of adversity, us humans are known for getting crystal clear on what really matters most. When we were once undecided about a big decision or when we were once distracted from what we truly cherished, the COVID-19 crisis yanked us back into full attention.

Although the coronavirus pandemic continues to be distressing for many, less than half of U.S. adults (47%) now say they “worried a lot of the previous day” — down from 59% in late March/early April, according to a recent (May 10, 2020) Gallup report. As the silver lining begins to shine through, we’re able to sharpen our focus on the path before us.

With newfound (or remembered) insight about what makes our lives precious, we can resiliently take actionable steps towards a renewed sense of purpose and gratitude for life.

In the rush to return normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.

Dave Hollis

What We Miss and What We’re Grateful For are Clues of What We Value Most

During the pandemic, what do you/did you miss the most? Is there anything you realized you are particularly grateful for? Is there anything that you might have taken for granted before the COVID-19 pandemic? We asked a colleague these questions and she quickly rattled off several things she was missing and for what she was most grateful.

“I want to visit with and hug my mom.”
“I can’t wait to put my toes in the sand on the beach.”
“The idea of enjoying a restaurant meal with my husband fills me with anticipation.”
“I cannot wait to travel and go on vacation. Anywhere out of the house!”
“I miss feeling calm.”
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to work.”
“I’m grateful to still have a job. I’m grateful for my health and the health of my family.”

The above “wish list” and “gratitude list” represents values. Values are the qualities and aspects in life that make it personally meaningful. In the list above, you’ll notice values of family, love, nature, leisure, adventure, inner peace, stability, health, and purpose.

The Grandest Gifts From the ‘Great Pause

As we tread forward and look to the future after what some are calling ‘The Great Pause,’ let us connect with inner wisdom to discern what’s a worthwhile destination. For many people, their vision has come into focus. What really matters most in this one precious life has been neglected and taken for granted.

Sometimes values get lost in the busyness of the ‘normal’ hustle and bustle of day-to-day living. Many of us were just too darn busy and distracted to really connect with what mattered most and undoubtedly deserved utmost attention and appreciation. In a course correction, we can deepen our understanding of what we truly value and design our life to be congruent with those values.

Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.

Goethe

How to Identify Values

First and foremost, it’s important to highlight that values are different from goals (which are achievable/attainable, objective, and measurable). Values are what’s important and meaningful in life, and therefore, they are unique for each person. They are also based in the present moment (an ongoing process), as they may shift and shape throughout one’s lifespan.

You may envision values as a compass that points towards the direction you want to go in life; and your goals as achievable stops along the way. In other words, you never actually attain a value, but you can choose actions congruent with it. For example, if a person values being a loving and caring partner and chooses to consistently show affection, be supportive, and engage in behaviors that are aligned with this value, then this person is living by that value. 

Deep Dive Values Activity

Let’s take a deeper dive and explore your values with an activity. To fully engage in this exercise, try to connect with your innermost thoughts (this private inner voice may not be something you necessarily share with others) and take your time to write down your responses to the prompts below.

  1. Imagine that a miracle happens tonight while you are sleeping, and when you wake up in the morning, your life is exactly as you want it. What would your life look like? What would be different?
    (Pro tip: write it down and add as much detail as you can)
  2. Notice what you wrote and ask yourself: “What about this is important and meaningful for me?”
  3. Now, explore what you value in different areas of life. Please note that these are general life areas and maybe some of them may not be applicable to you. Feel free to skip those that do not apply, and to add anything we might have missed that’s important to you. Remember that these are always different and unique to each individual and that there are no right or wrong values.
    • Family relationships (immediate/nuclear family)
      • What type of relationships do you want to have with your family members?
      • How do you want to behave towards them?
    • Marriage/Couple or life partner/Intimate relationships
      • What kind of relationship do you want to have?
      • What kind of partner do you want to be?
    • Parenting
      • What sort of parent do you want to be? 
      • Which qualities do you want to have as a parent?
    • Friendships/Social relationships
      • What type of relationships do you want to build? 
      • What qualities do you value in your friends and want to emulate? 
    • Employment/Career
      • What kind of work is valuable or important to you?
      • What would make it more meaningful?
    • Education/Training/Personal growth and development
      • How would you like to grow?
      • What would you want to learn
    • Recreation/Leisure/Fun/Relaxation
      • What activities do you enjoy?
      • When are you more relaxed or playful?
    • Spirituality
      • What is important to you regarding your definition of spirituality?
    • Citizenship/Community/Environment
      • How would you like to contribute in your community or your environment?
    • Physical health and wellbeing
      • How do you want to look after yourself in this regard? 
      • What do you value in your health?
  4. Now that you explored these in more detail, ask yourself: 
    • Am I living in accordance to my values? 
    • Am I taking actions in a valued direction?
  5. For the purpose of this exercise, select a value you want to prioritize and identify an action that you can implement within the next 24 hours that is aligned with that value. For example, a person who values being physically healthy may chose to exercise by jogging for 30 minutes first thing tomorrow morning (see, achievable and measurable!). 

“Values are intentional qualities of action that join together a string of moments into a meaningful path” 

Steve Hayes

It is important to note that in order to live according to your values, you would need to engage consistently in valued-oriented action or behaviors. Getting support with this endeavor from a therapist can be very helpful.

How Therapy Helps You Take Committed Action to Living in Alignment with Values

The benefits of living in alignment with values may seem overly simple, but they are indeed powerful. Continuously choosing to engage in valued-oriented actions (or behaving in a way that is congruent with what you value in life) will get you closer to living life in a meaningful way. 

Therapy, and a specific type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), can help clients explore and clarify their values, identify and address the barriers towards taking valued-directed action, and assist them in acquiring skills to connect with the present moment (to stop living in the past or future). ACT is an evidence-based therapy that also helps clients increase their awareness of what is keeping them “stuck” and how the relationship with their inner experiences (e.g. thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc.) are leading them to actively engage in avoidant behaviors through life. 

Many clients report that being in their heads all day, or having anxiety, little motivation or depressed mood are barriers towards living the life they want. With ACT, clients choose goals that are meaningful to them (given that they are based on what they value), which leads to increased willingness to engage in purposeful personal growth. Furthermore, clients are met with behavioral interventions to increase the identified valued-oriented actions and make changes in their lives. Another important component of this approach is commitment; meaning that even if you stumble along the way, clients commit to “getting back on track.”

With ACT you can expect an action-oriented approach and experiential interventions. In addition to what has been explained/exemplified thus far, sessions typically include mindfulness exercises and the use of metaphors, paradoxes, imagery exercises, role plays, and homework. Given the uniqueness of each client, ACT interventions are completely tailored to the individual person. 

Conclusion

The historic moment in time of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought remarkable challenge, loss, and pain. Perhaps the silver lining in the aftermath of the pandemic will be increased connection and community, commitment to core values and priorities, and widespread awareness of public health and mental health matters.

If you are looking to take advantage of the perspective you’ve gained during this time and make deep, meaningful changes in your life, we encourage you to give Acceptance and Commitment Therapy a try! Give us a call 954-488-2933 or send us an email to request further information. Click here to book a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with us.


Fort Lauderdale Psychologist Dr. Gabriela Sadurni Rodriguez

Dr. Gabriela Sadurní Rodríguez is a licensed psychologist at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale and is an expert in trauma-related issuesdepressionanxiety, life transitions/adjustments, and difficulties in interpersonal relationships. Call 954-488-2933 x 8 or email today to discuss how her services can help you.

Dr. Jamie Long - Psychologist Fort Lauderdale - The Psychology Group

Dr. Jamie Long is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Managing Partner of The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale. She specializes in anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Call (954) 488-2933 x1 or email today to discuss how her services can help you.