When difficulties arise, lean in...here's how

#stressmanagement healthcoaching mentalhealth mindset wellness

May you be healthy and happy and lean in to difficulties my friend.  Here’s some ways to begin.

When the U.S. shut down as a result of COVID-19 two years ago, we all remember the guidance to shelter in place and socially distance.  With it, we collectively felt the uncertainty of it all.  We couldn’t know for how long we’d need to do so, nor just how serious the virus was.

Fear was palpable for many of us.

Now, two years later, with nearly one million dead, let us reflect and use the experience to elevate our health and happiness.

Some things are still the same, some transformed into a new normal, but in all cases, life as we know it is forever altered.

And uncertainty remains.

Does uncertainty have to come with a sense of dread though?

Could what we’ve collectively gone through with the pandemic actually be the wake up call we needed to prioritize what really matters in life including our relationship with fear, dread and uncertainty?

Change is the one constant we have in this human life.  We know this deep in our bones, yet too many of us fight it and endlessly try to wish it away.

What if, instead of wishing things would stop changing or go back to normal (whatever that is) we leaned into the myriad of lessons that have been thrust upon us in the last two years?

I know it’s a lot and you’re just wanting to move on already…stop talking about it…but it’s that mindset that’s actually worsening our collective dread, anxiety and fear.

In difficult and turbulent times, the healing path is to lean in and be with our thoughts and emotions.  Tending to them with care and compassion instead of pushing them away and avoiding through distractions with things like social media, alcohol, food, binge watching tv, gaming, etc.

I was reminded of our capacity to be with difficult thoughts and emotions when I read this recent article entitled “Praying for Ukraine.”

It talked about heartbreak, resilience and compassion.  These three qualities of our mind and heart space help us be with the difficulties life throws at us, but also, allows us to squeeze more of the pure goodness from life when joyful experiences happen.

Another way to learn to be more skillful and lean in during difficult times, instead of numb out and avoid, comes from the excerpt below (credit: BBC's Amanda Ruggeri). 

Don’t distract yourself from difficult feelings

Despite their disdain for "the passions" like grief and their advice for not getting sucked in by them, the Stoics understood very well that, for most of us, these feelings would still arise. And, in the same way that modern speakers like Brené Brown advise against "numbing" negative emotions, the Stoics argued that we shouldn't try to "cheat" feelings like sadness or anger. Taking a vacation, or throwing yourself into work, drives them away only temporarily. When they return, they're likely to come back even stronger.

"It is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it," Seneca wrote. But how? Today, psychotherapists might suggest "feeling the feelings", processing them and talking about them. Tara Brach, a well-known clinical psychologist and mindfulness guide, suggests the "sacred pause" – taking a moment to simply stop and tune into our emotions, even in the midst of a fit of anger or sorrow. For Seneca, the solution to simply study philosophy. 

Find the teachings that speak to your mind, body and spirit.  You’ll know it when you come upon them.  Stay open and keep a watchful eye.  Perhaps the resources offered to you today in what you’re reading right now speak to you?  If no, take heart, you have the capacity to lean into difficult emotions and thoughts and it is the pathway to healing what ails you.

When we lean in with the intention of digesting our emotions and relate to our thoughts in a loving, healing way, we drop the judgment and criticism. 

When you intentionally practice being with difficult emotions and thoughts regularly, you’re prepared when the world turns upside down and the hits that keep coming seem relentless.  You have a foundation to rest into and a strategy you can employ in the moment. 

It’s in the deliberate practice of being with our thoughts and emotions fully (see below for suggested practice) that we become freed from being pushed around by them or retreating into unhelpful distractions. 

Avoidance is a great short term tactic to avoid intense pain, but when avoidance is your go-to strategy on the regular, then it becomes a certainty you will suffer. 

Remember, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

Choose to lean in, not avoid.

The next time uncertainty, anxiousness, fear of the future or catastrophizing thoughts wash over you, try this practice.  It takes less than 1 minute!  It only works if you actually do it.

-Become aware that’s happening and choose to pause
-Take a some full breaths, breathing out slightly longer than in
-Place one hand firmly on your forehead, the other behind your neck
-Inwardly say to yourself “this can be here…I’m willing to be with this for a little while longer”
-Breathe some more full breaths
-Inwardly say ‘I’m ok, this too shall pass”
-Then let go of your forehead and neck, return your awareness to the space you’re in

“Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience. We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to open to whatever arises.” – Tara Brach

Be well my friend and reach out to me if I can be helpful to you in learning more ways to lean in and become more skillful with difficult emotions and thoughts. 

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