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Work with It, Rather than Against It

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Imagine that you’re 8.5 months pregnant and you suddenly begin experiencing the worst pain of your entire life. Terrifying, right? This is the situation I found myself in during the fall of 2017. What made matters worse was that the doctors couldn’t seem to to determine the cause of the pain. A lack of clear answers meant a lack of treatment. There was little that could be done about managing my pain.

In the hospital for days with no resolution, I felt helpless and hopeless. I had no idea how I was going to tolerate such an extreme level of discomfort. The meds weren’t working and the more I tried to fight the pain mentally, the worse it got. Ultimately, I realized that the attempts to mask the pain or make it go away were futile. I would have to find a way to accept the pain.

So I focused on my breath and called on my mindfulness skills, knowing I would have to stay present with the discomfort.

With each surge of pain, I repeated the following statements to myself.

“Breathe. This pain is intense right now, but it won’t last forever.”

“Breathe. You can do this. You are strong enough.”

“Breathe. You will survive this experience.”

Of course, these statements did not make the pain go away. But the reminder that the discomfort wasn’t permanent and that I could get through it made the experience more manageable. Most significantly, choosing to be present rather than struggling to “make it go away” decreased my stress level.

I got through it. I survived. (And don’t worry, I’m totally fine now and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.) However, this experience with intense physical pain has caused me to reflect on ways in which we try to avoid or push away emotional pain because we think we can’t handle it. There have been so many times that I’ve thought things like  “I can’t do that. I won’t be able to tolerate the anxiety.”

This experience reminded me that we are all so much stronger and so much more capable of handling discomfort than we give ourselves credit for. Especially when we work with the discomfort, rather than against it. When resist the urge to push away our uncomfortable emotions, we make space for the pain to come, which also makes room for the pain to go.

Much like a wave in the ocean that reaches a crest and then washes out onto the shore, emotions rise and fall quickly if we let them. But when we get entangled with them by resisting them or projecting our stories onto them, they take on a life of their own and we drown in them.

So try this: next time you feel an emotion rising that feels too uncomfortable to bear, work with it. Say to yourself “Breathe. This won’t last forever. You can do this. You are strong enough.” I think you’ll be surprised to find how strong you really are.

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