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  • Melissa Sims

Be Comfortable with the UNcomfortable

It is safe to say that we each experience discomfort daily. Whether it is on a personal level or a professional level, discomfort is a part of life. To be positive 100% of the time is unrealistic and frankly, impossible. So how do we accept discomfort?

Let’s be honest. Most of us do not love to feel the big stuff. I really believed I was comfortable with all of my emotions, but the emotions I recently experienced with my daughter going off to college really threw me. For the past several months, I knew this was coming. I knew she was leaving, I knew it was going to be hard, and I knew I needed to “deal” with those emotions at some point. But I kept pushing it down every time I felt like I was going to cry. “I’ll cry later,” I kept telling myself. Not now, not now. But all that did was make it worse when it was time to let her go off into the world to do exactly what I had been preparing her to do all these years.

Isn’t it funny how the brain works? The harder you try to fall asleep, the less likely you will; the more you try to avoid thinking negative thoughts, the more likely they will pop into your head; the more you try to avoid a painful situation, the more painful it gets. However, your greatest meaning in life can come from your greatest pains. If we didn’t care, it wouldn’t hurt.

With the work that you each do, I am sure you are confronted with discomfort frequently. Discomfort is naturally connected to purposeful activities like parenting, service work, caretaking, social justice, etc., but interestingly enough, experiencing pain can actually bring you pleasure.

Consider some activities that you find uncomfortable. Maybe exercise? Deep tissue massage, eating spicy food, speaking in front of a crowd, can bring pleasure after the fact. The reason is that they create contrast in your life. It provides a break from self-rumination, the mundane, the everyday “motions” of life, and signal strength, competence, and gratitude to your brain.

Pain may also be a necessary part of balance in the chemical makeup of our brains. Too much pleasure can have a negative effect on the brain - it almost becomes numb to the pleasure, where we no longer appreciate the benefits and experience of the dopamine hits that our brain receives. The brain needs balance in order to experience pleasure more fully. We can be more flexible with what we experience, pain and pleasure, to allow us to live a richer and fuller life.

How can we become more flexible? Here are a few tips.

Remember that you have a choice. Choosing to allow the pain and be in the experience instead of resisting it can completely change your relationship with discomfort. Instead of looking at something as if you were “forced into it” you can shift your mindset to “yes brain,” as Dan Siegel calls it. This is when you can find meaning and take a step toward what is uncomfortable, especially when what you care about is in the same direction.

Find the meaning. We often get so caught up in the pain that we forget what is actually important in that moment. For me, when I was saying goodbye to my daughter, my brain wanted to run and hide. But what was really important in that moment was me showing her that I trust the process, I know I did a great job raising her, and that she was going to be ok. That this change in our lives was glorious, and that the pain we were feeling was temporary. The meaning in all of it was a huge transition and turning point for her: growing up. Without that pain, the meaning would have been miniscule. We can practice making space for discomfort while focusing on the benefits of the moment.

Be present and stay mindful. Our brains love to worry, don’t they? Often the anticipation of pain can be worse than the pain itself! I had been dreading the “goodbye day” for months…and it was hard, yes. But was it as bad as I had made it out to be in my mind? No. And it has gotten easier every day. In the moment, I was experiencing joy, excitement, loss, sadness, the whole gamut of emotions. Remember: you do not need to experience the pain of the future. You simply need to accept the present discomfort.

Check your perspective. When we lean into discomfort, we are simply experiencing part of being human. The chemicals that swirl in our brains during uncomfortable situations can trigger our fight or flight response. If we can “zoom out” a bit and get some perspective on the ACTUAL pain we are in, we may be able to pull from the past experiences of pain and realize that we are going to be ok.

Many of you, in your line of work, are in discomfort daily. Make it your choice to feel the pain and discomfort. Shift your mindset and benefit from the meaning you are creating. You chose something that benefits more than just you. When you choose pain in the service of compassion, you grow more resilient. More compassionate. And all of this is practice for the balance your brain needs in relation to pain and pleasure. This will allow you to fully experience all that life has to offer.


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