What Does it Mean to “Drop Anchor” in ACT Therapy?

What Does it Mean to “Drop Anchor” in ACT Therapy?

Running away from any problem only increases the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from the problem is to solve it.


Dropping Anchor is an exercise created and shared by my favorite Acceptance and Commitment Therapist (ACT), author, and educator, Russ Harris, PhD (2017). He created a three-step method called ACE to “drop anchor” amidst waves of difficult emotions and thoughts that arise naturally in our lives. ACE stands for Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings; Come back to your bodily experience; and Engage with what is in front of you calling for your full attention.

Anytime we “set sail” in life, we will encounter moments of calm but like the weather, we must work with the variety of ways nature expresses itself. 

Dropping anchor amidst a storm does not prevent a storm, it helps us find stability in the middle of one. 

Dropping anchor helps us navigate emotional overwhelm or “thought storms”. In Harris’s own words below he claims:

You can use it for handling difficult thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, urges, and sensations more effectively; switching off auto-pilot and engaging in life; grounding and steadying yourself in difficult situations; disrupting rumination, obsessing, and worrying; focusing your attention on the task or activity you are doing; developing more self-control; and as a ‘circuit-breaker’ for impulsive, compulsive, aggressive, addictive, or other problematic behaviors.

What is involved?

Dropping anchor involves playing around with a simple formula: ACE

A: Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
C: Come back into your body
E: Engage in what you’re doing


A: Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings

Silently and kindly acknowledge whatever is ‘showing up’ inside you: thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, sensations, urges. Take the stance of a curious scientist, observing what’s going on in your inner world. And while continuing to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, also….

C: Come back into your body

Come back into and connect with your physical body. Try some or all the following, or find your own methods:

  • Slowly push your feet hard into the floor. |
  • Slowly straighten up your back and spine; if sitting, sitting upright, and forward in your chair.
  • Slowly pressing your fingertips together
  • Slowly stretch your arms or neck, shrugging your shoulders.
  • Slowly breathing

    you are not trying to turn away from, escape, avoid or distract yourself from what is happening in your inner world. The aim is to remain aware of your thoughts and feelings, continue to acknowledge their presence …. and at the same time, come back into and connect with your body. In other words, you are expanding your focus: aware of your thoughts and feelings, and aware of your body while actively moving it. And while acknowledging your thoughts and feelings, and connecting with your body, also ….

E: Engage in what you’re doing

Get a sense of where you are and refocus your attention on the activity you are doing. Again, you could try some or all the following suggestions or find your own methods:

Look around the room and notice 5 things you can see.

• Notice 3-or-4 things you can hear.
• Notice what you can smell or taste or sense in your nose and mouth
• Notice what you are doing

End the exercise by giving your full attention to the task or activity at hand. Ideally, run through the ACE cycle slowly 3 or 4 times, to turn it into a 2-to-3-minute exercise.

NOTE: Please don’t skip the A of ACE; it’s so important to keep acknowledging the thoughts and feelings present, especially if they are difficult or uncomfortable. If you skip the A, this exercise will turn into a distraction technique – which it’s not supposed to be.


There are many possible purposes for practicing this skill but it is often used as a first step in handling flashbacks, panic attacks, chronic pain, and many other issues.


If you’re pushed for time, just do a 30-second version: run through the ACE cycle once If you’re up for a challenge, run through the ACE cycle extremely slowly, over, and over, for 5-to-10 minutes. There are literally hundreds of ways to modify this exercise, to accommodate your needs (e.g., physical pain) or overcome any difficulties you may have with it.


Also remember, you can practice these kinds of exercises, any time, any place, any activity. And it’s a good idea to practice them often in less challenging situations when your thoughts and feelings are less difficult, so you can build up your skill levels. Over time, the idea is to use this in more challenging situations, when your thoughts and feelings are more difficult.


If you wish, you can download some free audio recordings of ‘dropping anchor’ exercises, varying from 1 minute to 11 minutes in length. You can listen to these and use them as a guide to help you develop this skill.

Russ Harris (author of the above) allows anyone of us to download free ACT worksheets HERE!