Hear me out.
We live in a time and a place (for those of you in the US) where we have a quick fix for just about everything. Sometimes this quick fix is putting on a podcast to drown out our own thoughts, sometimes it's a pill, or a drink, or a drive-through.
Our minds go faster than ever before because we have more mental stimulation than ever before, and for many of us the thought of sitting still or with our thoughts makes us squirm.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no zen-master. I have, however, found that after many years of resistance, getting curious and sitting with my emotions is a lot less scary than I once believed.
I would go to extreme lengths to remain distracted and out of my head. I would constantly have the TV playing in the background, or the radio. I would submerge myself in work or study to keep my mind busy. For many years, I would use food as my ultimate numbing agent and escape.
All of my attempts to avoid, to numb, to hide, all resulted in the same thing: Fear, shame, and pain.
You see, it's not the feelings that will kill us, it's the things we do to avoid the feelings that will kill us.
It's not only in my work with women who are in recovery from substance use disorders where I see this pattern. It's in my friends, my family, and myself. Most of us have an aversion to feeling. Most of us have an aversion to being alone with our thoughts. This is why we pick up our cell phone and start mindlessly scrolling while we are waiting in line somewhere.
We cannot stand discomfort, and we will go to extreme lengths to feel better, or to feel "on". For some of us, this is using a substance. For me, this substance is caffeine. For others it's numbing out with entertainment.
I'm not trying to demonize entertainment, there is nothing inherently wrong with relaxing by watching your favorite show. In fact, it's one of the least self-destructive things you can do.
Everything has a cost, and numbing through entertainment can cost us if we are using it to avoid our thoughts or emotions. This can lead us to some very unhealthy patterns of relating in our day to day lives. We become less self-aware, struggle with emotional regulation, and find ourselves reacting more frequently.
The radical shift I've had to make in my own life is this:
Sometimes feeling like crap IS an accomplishment.
Learning to be okay with mediocrity and learning to be okay with feeling "off" is one of the most important practices you can develop. We all have bad days. There will be days when we didn't get enough sleep, where we wake up with a headache, spill our coffee, or just feel fuzzy-brained (also known as Monday).
There's a branch of dialectical behavioral therapy called "distress tolerance" which teaches skills for improving emotional regulation.
For me, on a day when I feel "off", distress tolerance looks like petting my dog, lowering my expectations around productivity, going to bed early if I'm tired, taking time off from exercising, and sitting in silence.
Yes, sitting in silence. The thing I once feared is now one of my all-time favorite things to do. The silence is no longer scary because I know what's underneath. The silence now allows me to connect with my environment and for me, God. I love silence and I find peace in it.
Now, when I start wanting to "plug in", zone out, or listen to something, I notice the impulse. I get curious. What am I trying to avoid? What am I really anxious about? Getting to the bottom of our resistance is a far less scary place to be than the things we do to avoid it.
Next time you're waiting at the DMV or find yourself reaching for the remote at the end of a long day, see if you can sit for 1-2 minutes and just be. Get curious about what's going on inside and around you. I guarantee a little more peace than you expected.