Do you avoid unpleasant feelings? Of course you do, we all do!

It’s only natural for us to want to escape what makes us feel uncomfortable and distressed. Unfortunately, by resisting these experiences and emotions, we can actually increase our suffering. The more we resist our pain by numbing or distracting ourselves, the more suffering we endure.

Think of it this way. We can only add so many items into a box.

No matter how hard we push the lid down it will eventually resist the pressure and come off and spilling the contents. The more we’ve pushed into the box, the more that will overflow. The end result is a big mess we need to find some way to deal with.

It’s not uncommon for us to feel overwhelmed and wondering “Where the hell will I put all this stuff?”. The way we deal with emotional pain is often no different from this.

So, what’s the alternative you ask?

Learn to sit with the pain instead of running from it. I can imagine there are some looks of panic or confusion in many of you reading this. That’s okay, this is a pretty normal response to this suggestion. Learning to be the observer of your experience is one way to do this. To do so, you may:

1. Notice any uncomfortable thoughts, regrets, memories, emotions, and sensations and let them be there without judgement. Instead of pushing them away or keeping yourself overly busy, be curious about what you are experiencing no matter how painful.

2. Then anchor your attention on your breath, noticing the breath coming into the body as you inhale and leaving the body as you exhale. Pay attention to the quality of your breath. If it’s too fast and shallow, slow it done. If it’s erratic, make it smooth and even.

You can also move your body and pay attention to the sensations that arise. Some way to do this include:

  • Gently swaying from side to side.
  • Lifting your big toes up, placing them down, then lifting the four remaining toes up and repeating this.
  • You can also move your arms up and down slowly, lifting your arms up as you feel the inhale coming and then lowering as you feel the exhale, again repeating this a few times.

If you notice the unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations just continue to let them be there and return your attention to your breath or body movements. Remember, you don’t want to put them in the box.

3. When you feel you have been able to take a step back and the thoughts and emotions are not as intrusive, focus your attention outward to your environment by noticing 5 things you can see and 5 things you can hear. Then return to what you were doing or engage in a meaningful activity. This exercise will help you recognise the resistance and learn to sit with uncomfortable and distressing thoughts, emotions and sensations so you can resist the urge to avoid.

This is something you need to practice like any skill. You may also need to repeat the steps numerous times if the distress you are experiencing is overwhelming. One way of mastering this skill is to start with small annoyances and uncomfortable feelings. Over time it will feel more natural. If you would like some help in learning to practice this skill, book a session with one of our team, in person or via telehealth.