Everyday Resilience: Let Yourself Feel Everything (Get comfortable with discomfort)
What's getting you through these days? What's your emotional state? Mine is full-on rollercoaster: moments when I feel grateful for security and health, moments when I wonder why I should get out of bed. Moments of anger, particularly at stories of injustice, and moments of terror at the thought of a loved one getting critically ill alone. Mostly I feel sad these days, and tears are always close to the surface. It's week 3 of social distancing and the reality is sinking in that not only is some form of isolation going to last for months, but that the impact of this pandemic will be felt for years to come. So, I ask again: what's getting you through?
One thing that's helping me to get through is observing myself go through the full range of emotions without blocking - or judging - any of them. Rainer Maria Rilke's poem, "Go to the Limits of Your Longing" keeps coming to me, particularly this refrain:
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Our society doesn't know what to do with unhappy feelings - we are categorically afraid of emotional pain. Think about it - when you know a friend is going through a rough time, what's the first thing you want to do? You want to make them feel better. But it turns out that it's healthy to feel what you need to feel - and the human spirit is resilient enough to handle whatever feeling arises, especially when shame about feelings is removed, and someone is there (even virtually) to acknowledge what you're experiencing. We need to get comfortable with discomfort.
I recently had a friend who called me because he was experiencing daily chest pain. I questioned him about pandemic anxiety. "I don't have any reason to be worried," he said, "but I noticed today when I was physically busy for the first time in a while, I didn't have the pain." We went through the list of all the changes he's experienced because of social distancing and some losses became apparent too. Even though his life wasn't threatened nor his job lost, it soon became evident that his chest pain was related to feelings he hadn't named. When feelings aren't acknowledged they will come out in other ways, not uncommonly as pain or even a rash.
One way I've heard feelings described is as vibrations of energy. This makes sense - when I feel anxious it almost feels like buzzing in my chest. When I observe an emotion that causes discomfort I practice breathing through it, rather than pushing it down. I find that more often than not it dissipates and I can move on. A red flag of ongoing, chronic stress is when someone feels...nothing. Numb. This is because of the way we're wired: we can't push down bad feelings without pushing down good ones, too. If you are feeling numb, if
the stress of social distancing is becoming toxic for you - especially if you are in a threatening situation (abuse, food insecurity, overwhelming loss) then please reach out for help.
Understanding emotions - and managing them - as energy helps me appreciate why I am more tired these days. On Monday, I got to the point where I just had to close my eyes - my brain couldn't process another thing. I honored that need, and 30 minutes later I could focus again. Are you showing yourself similar compassion?
Let's be mindful of others as we allow ourselves to feel everything: here I am thinking specifically of anger. It is a valid, primal emotion - one that we need to listen to. But how you express it can have a profound impact on others. If you are one who tends to yell and let it all out, you may feel better afterward, but I can pretty much guarantee you've left a wake of distress for those on the receiving end. Learn to recognize what your anger feels like in your body and sit with it, ask yourself what it's about. If you need to, remove yourself from others to let it out and then don't be afraid to talk about it. But please don't expect others to "just get over it" - that's not fair to ask.
Finally, I invite you to see that you are not your emotions! They are an important part of your lived experience but they do not define you. Below your emotions is the part of you that is aware of your emotions. Can you sense that? My invitation to you is to sit with this Self and see what it has to say. I am finding it to be a source of momentary wisdom in these challenging times.