If there is one thing we can all relate to at the present moment, it is that in many ways, our lives have gotten significantly more uncomfortable in the year 2020.
Insecurity and uncertainty brought about by the pandemic, coupled with economic fragility, unemployment, and major shifts in education, healthcare, not to mention travel and movement restrictions, have all wreaked havoc on our sense of normality and the function of our “every day lives.”
For those also in recovery, this situation of being extraordinarily uncomfortable, both situationally and emotionally, is exactly the place that can cause anxiety, immense fear and a temptation to revert to behaviors that may momentarily bring comfort, but in the long-term, only destruction. Circumstantial discomfort can lead to feelings of being out-of-control, unworthy, unlovable, angry, doubtful, and a wide-range of other adverse emotional states. And they don’t just live in the brain. They affect our bodies, actions and reactions, motivation levels and relationships. The emotional discomfort so many are experiencing is real and valid, but most important to emphasize, can be managed and there IS hope.
The natural question that arises from the current crisis is: since discomfort seems to have become the new normal, how do we get comfortable with it?
There will never be a world in which we do not experience some level of discomfort –either situational, emotional or both. Therefore, we must have a plan in place for when extreme discomfort arises so that it does not overwhelm us, but can be handled in a way that honors recovery and builds healing and hope.
First, it is important to manage expectations to prevent the swings of emotion that can accompany discomfort. Barry Schwartz in his book, “The Paradox of Choice,” says that humans are admirably adaptable to situations as they evolve, but are absolutely horrible at anticipating the emotional impact of changes in their lives. For example, we drastically overestimate how happy a positive experience will make us, as well as how negatively an uncomfortable experience will affect us. The brain always has to make predictions to determine current action. If we modify our expectations from the outset however, with the knowledge and trust of ourselves that we will indeed be able to adapt to the situation, we already have a bulwark against the effect of emotional discomfort. This can be aided by speaking, out loud, affirmations to ourselves. Statements like, “I can handle this,” “I am strong,” “I’ve got this,” “I can get through this,” help to verbalize the truth, rather than listen to fear.
Second, when you’re in an emotionally healthy place, it is important to set an action plan for when uncomfortable emotions arrive. What are your triggers, and what things have you done in the past to self-soothe? Did they work, or did they trigger a cycle of shame and self-condemnation? Put in place things you can do to self-soothe that are accessible and “easy to reach” in distressing times. It might be putting a person on speed dial, or having a book at the ready, or shoes at the door to get outside in nature for a walk. Every person is different, and therefore will develop different strategies, but make them simple and easy to get to, so that the calming effect takes place as quickly as possible. It can even be as simple as opening a breathing or meditation app. However you choose to make a plan, do so ahead of time, because when experiencing deeply uncomfortable emotions, we’re usually not in the best headspace to make recovery honoring decisions.
Third, reach out to your treatment team. It is normal during these extraordinary and unprecedented times to be experiencing fear, worry, doubt, anxiety, and perhaps at a higher intensity or frequency, than before the pandemic. They do not have to control your life and health, however. It is ok to reach out for help. You have permission.
Thankfully, due to tele-mental health and our digitalized world, you can still access treatment providers online, and there are a wide variety of online resources (like this blog), videos and even inspiring content on social media (!!!) that can supplement the recovery journey.
It is important to not shame yourself at this time into thinking that you don’t deserve help – that other people have it worse – your reality is valid, and your tolerance for discomfort and the impact it has on you is unique, and worthy to be heard. You deserve treatment, support and encouragement. If the discomfort becomes unmanageable and unhealthy, do not hesitate to reach out for the support you deserve.
You’re not alone, and you can learn tools to handle these challenging times in a way that keeps you and your loved ones healthy and safe.