Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

For the most part, I am an overwhelmingly positive person, and a lot of my writing focuses on looking at life through an unwaveringly optimistic lens. In this article however, I wanted to reflect on some of the more testing emotions that I have experienced recently. I am hesitant to use the word “negative” to describe difficult or challenging emotions because they are natural and come to everyone; it is how you process and act on them that dictates any negative outcome that follows. As much as I would love to be content all the time, it is just not a realistic expectation to have; life is not always rosy. Moreover, the current global pandemic has been extremely enduring for everyone and it is likely that these more complex emotions have been exacerbated for us all during this time.

My natural instinct when I feel emotions like this presents a ‘fight or flight’ response, whereby I feel myself desperately needing to find a quick solution to whatever the problem may be. I am starting to realise that sometimes these emotions have to be addressed with a greater level of detail and scrutiny and whilst it may feel awkward for a longer period of time, I need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to find longer lasting solutions.

I am hesitant to use the word “negative” to describe difficult or challenging emotions because they are natural and come to everyone; it is how you process and act on them that dictates any negative outcome that follows.

In this article, I hope to outline some of the difficulties I struggle with when I am faced with challenging emotions and some of the coping mechanisms that I have picked up or that have been recommended to me, which I have been trying to use to help me navigate through them.

Challenging and rationalising thoughts

One of the most prominent traits I have noticed when I am faced with a challenging emotion is that my mind is quick to spiral. Normally, something will trigger an emotive response in me, then my mind will latch onto that trigger and conjure up the worst possible scenarios for me to ponder, question and obsess about. The longer I think about something, the worse it gets in my head. Even if the trigger started off as something minuscule, I will analyse and over-analyse every part of what triggered me and create horrible thoughts for myself to feel worse about; it often feels deliberate, as if I am trying to self-sabotage or punish myself. I think it is human nature to focus on the negatives in life rather than the positives, so it is little surprise that the mind can be such a cruel place to feel trapped in during one of these spirals.

To counter these feelings, I am trying harder to spot these triggers and to not give them the capacity to grow and spiral. By recognising these thoughts earlier on, I address them head on, rather than allowing them to consume me. Once I have identified the thought, I challenge and rationalise it. By assessing the arguments for and against whatever the triggering thought was, I find that I am better able to present myself with a more reasoned argument. A big part of cognitive behaviour therapy is about rationalising thoughts rather than thinking positively and I am hopeful that by attempting to think more logically rather than solely emotionally, I will be better placed to deal with these kinds of issues as they emerge.

Acceptance over resistance

The more challenging emotions that have troubled me most recently are those of jealousy, anxiety and low self-worth. I have a tendency to compare myself to others and in doing so put myself down. I hate that I feel this way sometimes and it is an aspect of myself that I really despise. I felt that these can be very ugly emotions and morally wrong for me to feel and because of that I think I was in denial about them and resisted them for a long time.

A friend of mine told me about the importance of acceptance over resistance and that was a real game changer for me. I shifted my mindset from “I should not feel this way” to “ok, I do feel these emotions in this scenario. What am I going to do about it?”. Just like that, I have been better able to take a step back and accept how I feel rather than resist and in doing so, begin to break down those feelings. Resistance to the problem made it far more difficult to acknowledge, accept and overcome.

Affirmations and helpful thoughts

Part of the issue I have sometimes is that I allow these detrimental thoughts to spiral and do not always have the will or the energy to stop them. When something happens to trigger an emotive response, it is so easy to get caught in a whirlwind of feelings and to allow them to take control. Whilst I find it difficult to challenge these emotions, equally I acknowledge that the least I can do is to try and minimise their impact.

One way I have found useful in challenging these thoughts is through affirmations or helpful thoughts. I have made a list on my phone of a few phrases that I will refer to when I am caught in the middle of one of these aforementioned emotional spirals. They vary from time to time but to give you an example, one of the affirmations I am using this week is: “I can be anxious and still deal with the situation”. I have found this one to be particularly useful and relevant as it serves as a reminder that despite feeling challenging emotions, I still have the power within myself to not let them affect my actions. I can now accept that even if I feel a certain way, I will not let the emotion dictate my actions or response.

“I can be anxious and still deal with the situation”

Train the mind as you would your body

Another friend of mind provided me with an extremely useful analogy in terms of challenging thoughts: “you need to train the mind, just like you would train your body at the gym”. Rationalising and unpacking complicated emotions can seem fruitless at times, but even in the short period of time that I have tried to employ these techniques, I have seen vast improvements. I appreciate now that the rewards of training the mind take time, but I am hopeful that by challenging difficult thoughts, accepting these uncomfortable feelings and by building willpower and strength through affirmations, I will be better equipped to handle these types of emotions as and when they arise. The more I practice these techniques, the more comfortable I will become in feeling uncomfortable and over time I am sure that these daunting emotions will become far less so.

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