While society has changed dramatically over the course of history, mans’ need to avoid suffering has not. Humans will do just about anything to avoid pain, whether it be emotional or physical. An addict may spend their last 10 dollars on the next fix rather than attend a scheduled interview. A woman may avoid the dentist because she is afraid of drills, even when she has a cavity. We find the least painful situation and run towards it. The problem is, we cannot always avoid emotional or physical pain. Life is wonderful, but it also involves an endless series of struggles. There are times where we just must sit and sift through difficult emotions and wait for them to pass. So, how can we make this experience less difficult? Here are some top tips.
1. Emotional Regulation and Acceptance
When we are going through difficult emotions, our first instinct is to find a distraction. Some of us may scroll through our phones, while others may go out with friends. We compartmentalize our feelings for a later time. In a sense, we are procrastinating. Unfortunately, this only prolongs the painful feelings and makes them much worse.
Accepting our feelings is an effective way to regulate our emotions and stay in the present moment. It allows us to take a step back and consider whether the way we are approaching a problem is truly effective. It also provides a space for us to mourn our pain. We don’t need to fight the feelings or wish for them to move on, we can simply accept the negative emotions and sit with them. Eventually, we will process the pain and things will get easier.
2. Form New Neural Pathways
Too often we believe that our emotions are out of our control. Because we feel helpless, we become frightened by the feelings. This leads us to seek a distraction that may not be healthy for us. While we shouldn’t downplay pain or pretend it doesn’t hurt, there are better ways to talk to ourselves while experiencing pain.
We can acknowledge and accept our feelings and positive self-dialogue to speak kind thoughts to ourselves. Over time, we can create new neural pathways in our brain that will help us respond to future pain more effectively. This will increase the activity in the prefrontal cortex, which improves attention, emotional regulation, and our response to stressors.
3. Change What You Can Control
Sometimes we experience pain that is entirely out of our control, such as when a loved one passes away. It is normal to feel anxious, depressed, and scared when a close friend or family member is no longer with us. However, there are other negative emotional experiences that are a direct result of choices we have made or unfortunate words we have spoken. Consider why you feel anxious or depressed. Did you have control over any part of the situation? If so, write up a list of actions you can take to resolve the situation. Apologize to your friend, seek treatment for an addiction, or eat healthier to feel better. So much of the world is out of our control but changing that which we can control will surely lessen our lingering anxiety and depression.
4. Ask for Help
There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous that goes something like this: “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Emotional pain that is based on guilt or worry will only amplify when we keep it inside. If you did something wrong or feel like you made a mistake, talking to a trusted confidant about it can help relieve some of that internal pressure. If you are secretly struggling with a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression, the illness will tell you to keep it inside. This can’t be further from the truth. The best thing you can do is find a support group, go to a therapist, or talk to close friends about what is going on. The fear will dissipate as soon as your mouth opens, and you’ll be relieved to find out that others aren’t as judgmental as you think they will be.
Do you struggle with painful, debilitating emotions? Are you suffering from anxiety or depression? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.