"The Best Way Out Is Always Through". -Robert Frost
Or what I like to say to myself is "the only way through is THROUGH". There are no shortcuts when it comes to processing experiences and feelings that have taken up space in our minds and bodies. Most people have a very small bandwidth to tolerate feelings and sensations that fall into the category of Grief/ Fear/ or Anger. We don't have the bandwidth because nobody taught us to practice growing strength around feeling these sensations. Instead, we are taught how to avoid discomfort at all cost. Therefore, most people learn to suppress these "sensations" as they come up and replace them with addictive types of behaviors that help us cope and avoid. In our culture, there is an emphasis on finding happiness and joy and an avoidance of looking directly in the face of sadness, fear and anger.
Some might say, "why is it important to experience these feelings if we can find ways to avoid them?". I mean, who prefers to feel uncomfortable feelings instead of finding ways to dodge them? The answer is clear. Feelings are a mark of humanity. Feelings are often sensations that we experience physically and they are often hard to interpret. To be human means we feel deeply. Even more importantly, they are indicators to us about what is working or not working in our lives moment to moment. They are FEEDBACK. We can use this feedback to understand ourselves better if we learn to pay attention and inquire about the meaning.
Here are some useful tools to begin the journey towards growing greater comfort with the wide world of feelings.
I Am Safe. Let this become a Mantra. Repeat to yourself that you are safe when the energy of different feelings runs through you. It can also be helpful to say to yourself "this is very uncomfortable but it will not hurt me".
Notice the sensations in your body... where are you physically feeling these sensations?
Breath into the sensations.
Grow Discomfort Tolerance or allow yourself to develop something DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) calls "Distress Tolerance" where you grow in your ability to tolerate the discomfort. Allow yourself to sit with the feelings a little longer each time these experiences arise.
Escape Routes. Know tools that help you escape when it's too much... it's easier to tolerate strong feelings when we know what action we can take to feel better. Write them down and have the list easily accessible on your phone on on paper so you know where to go to choose one.
Self Care. Use all the tools for self care while working on growing your tolerance. Enough sleep, hydration, healthy food will all allow your nervous system to recalibrate to a new level of tolerance. Which is the goal.
Notice your progress. Maybe when you started you we're capable of tolerating a minute of discomfort and you have progressed to 10 minutes or beyond. Celebrate that!
Extra Credit for any over achievers: While you are feeling the discomfort ask yourself what may have happened or what is stuck in your body that these feelings or sensations are related to. Finding some insight can help ignite the journey and motivate you to challenge yourself!
Once embarking on this journey of self discovery, most people are struck by the way anxiety and depression begin to lift and courage grows. Remember, the very best way to get though the feelings is walking right through. Walk On!