Instinctively, humans want to eliminate pain and discomfort, sometimes by any means possible. This is where unhealthy coping methods, addiction, and self-destruction can come into someone’s story if they aren’t equipped with the knowledge of how to healthily sit with uncomfortable emotions and pain. But it is possible to sit with this discomfort and care for yourself in a way that allows you to feel these emotions without harming yourself, mentally or physically. This is a learned skill, and one that has to be practiced, we don’t instinctively sit with our negative emotions as humans.
So how do we sit in discomfort? Sitting in discomfort means, quite literally, sitting with your feelings. Feeling them, acknowledging them, honoring them. Understanding that as you feel them, you are healing them. One thing to understand when you begin sitting with your feelings, is that they won’t magically be eliminated after a half hour, an hour, two hours. There’s no fairy dust or perfect time frame that will take away the discomfort you’re feeling. What sitting with your feelings will do, is teach you that you can and will survive the discomfort. Acknowledging the discomfort you feel and stepping away from resisting that discomfort allows you to be more accepting of the difficult emotions you feel, making it easier to move through them rather than fight them.
One thing we’re often not told is that it’s okay to sit in discomfort. In a culture that highlights looking on the bright side, staying positive, and finding the silver lining, we are often not given permission to acknowledge and feel our negative emotions. Feeling your discomfort and sitting with painful emotions is healthy and allows you to process rather than numb or ignore them, which causes them to manifest again in different and sometimes more intense ways. Imagine if you were blowing up a party balloon and you knew it was getting too full but continued blowing air into it anyway, the air has to go somewhere, so the balloon would eventually burst! Our negative emotions are the same way. When we don’t pay attention to them and allow ourselves to feel them, they show up in other ways demanding to be felt.
As you’re sitting in discomfort due to current events of today, it’s also okay if you realize that you don’t quite know what to say. This is a common reaction, and while there are spaces and people who shame and cause others to feel guilt for staying silent, it is perfectly acceptable to step back from social media or other places you usually use your voice and allow yourself time to process and acknowledge your feelings. Extra self-care and awareness become important in times like this because you’ll be tempted to feel as if you’re not contributing to the cause, or you’re not a good person because you’re not using your voice, and these things are simply not true. Use thought challenging to question these types of thoughts when they come up and find the facts:
Am I really not contributing to the cause? No, I’m taking the time to learn more about the issues I’m not educated on and gaining that knowledge is contributing to the cause in my own way.
Am I not a good person because I’m not using my voice? No, I’m allowing myself to do what feels right for me, and whether I use my voice or not isn’t an indicator of how much I care.
Taking the time to truly allow yourself to process all that is going on, sit with your discomfort, and form your thoughts is a healthy way to respond to situations. When we respond, we allow a pause between the event and our response - giving us time to analyze whether we’re in a healthy state of mind to offer a response. The opposite of responding is reacting, which happens when we react to an event without a pause, generally instinctual and without much thought put into it. Sitting with your discomfort can act as that pause that can be the difference between reacting and responding appropriately.
It’s also important for us to practice community care by being aware of each other’s discomfort and offering each other support in those moments. How can we best support each other through discomfort and painful emotions?
Clarify what they need. Asking others how we can help is one of the best ways to offer straightforward care to one another. Some people need someone to talk through their feelings with, while others benefit more from company while running errands or another means of feeling supported.
Make some time for them. Some people will want to discuss and process their discomfort. Making time to be this support to someone is an important aspect of caring for those we love, and it’s giving them the gift of holding space, which can be healing in and of itself.
Offer your support in various ways. Offering your support in other ways can look like dropping water off at protest sites or cooking a meal for a friend who is struggling. Oftentimes, the simplest things can be very impactful as offerings of community support and care.
Have resources available. If you have a great therapist, be prepared to offer his or her information to someone looking for support in the therapy space. If you’ve volunteered for or know of some local food banks that do great work, keep their information on you to share when you come across someone who could benefit. You never know when your resources can impact another life.
Sitting with discomfort and offering others support while they sit with discomfort is a learning experience and will continue to be a learning experience, and you’ll get better at it the more you practice it. The goals are to stay kind, both to yourself and to others, remain curious, and move away from confrontation and into collaboration and community. We must continue to care for one another and empower each other’s journeys as we walk through these difficult moments and learn together!