Ep. 188: How to Tolerate Uncomfortable Sensations
Welcome to Your Anxiety Toolkit. I’m your host, Kimberley Quinlan. This podcast is fueled by three main goals. The first goal is to provide you with some extra tools to help you manage your anxiety. Second goal, to inspire you. Anxiety doesn’t get to decide how you live your life. And number three, and I leave the best for last, is to provide you with one big, fat virtual hug, because experiencing anxiety ain’t easy. If that sounds good to you, let’s go. Welcome back, everybody. Thank you so much for joining me. I know your time is very valuable and precious, so thank you for spending your time with me. Oh goodness, I have so much to reflect on with you today. I’ve had a few aha moments, which I wanted to share with you because I wondered if I’m having these aha moments, maybe you are too. Let’s just actually get straight to it. Shall we? Because it’s funny for me to say this to you. I’m sort of embarrassed to say this, but I also think it’s very hilarious. I consider myself to be a very mindful person. I really do. When I’m struggling, I always practice what I preach. I observe that I’m struggling. I bring my attention back to the present. I engage back into the present and I usually feel better. This has been a profound practice for me in my life. I teach it to you guys because of how much of a huge difference it has made to me. What has been really interesting is, I have taken some time off. I’m slowing down with work. My children have gone back to school. To adjust, we’ve had some massive, massive adjustments in our family. My husband took a year off work to be with the kids, so he could be their teacher. I, when COVID hit, went deep into just so much work and was really working to support the family in a way that I hadn’t had to do before. I’m so grateful and I really recognize how privileged we were to have this environment and this experience because I was writing a book and I had my clients and there’s just no way he could have gone to work. So, he’s gone back to work. My children have gone back to school. I’m still finishing up the final stages of the book. So, it’s been such a huge difference for me. Because of this, I actually have been working with a coach, which usually I go to therapy every week. My therapist and I agreed that I would take some time off because I really felt like I was doing everything that she had given me. I was really feeling like my mindfulness skills are really helping me. What was so interesting was that my coach – and this is not a coach for anxiety, this is more of a life coach – brought to my attention – and this is where it’s really funny – that even though my mindfulness skills are really effective and so healing and wonderful, he felt – and I thought it was shocking to start with, but I think he’s right– that I’m using it to avoid feeling my feelings and avoid feeling the sensations of anxiety. Now, when he told me this, I’m not going to lie, I wanted to smack him upside the face. I was just really mad about it. I was like, “What? You’re telling me, I’m just this girl of mindfulness?” I don’t really see myself as a girl, but my ego was like, “I’m a guru at this. I’m so good at this. You’re telling me that it’s not effective?” I took some time. I shook off the pride, the pride issues that I was having, and I really let what he was saying to sink in. He’s 100%, right. I really am so grateful for this opportunity to be called out on this one. So here I am sharing with you that I too am going through a layered experience of recovery. As many of you know, I’ve had an eating disorder, I’ve had anxiety my whole life. I have struggled with depression. I have struggled with medical issues that have been really, really stressful on myself and my family. I have handled them mostly really well, I think, but it never occurred to me in this idea of recovery that I may be bypassing the opportunity to really do some work around uncomfortable feelings and uncomfortable sensations. Here I am. I’m going to teach you what I’m practicing. Now, I’ve made some adjustments. Instead of noticing my discomfort and suffering, I tend to it with mindfulness and self-compassion. But instead of jumping straight into those skills, which are so good, by the way, I’m not discounting. These skills are gold. If you have mindfulness skills, it’s better than gold. It’s more valuable than gold or anything else that you could get. So I still am going to use those, but there’s this teeny tiny little space before that where I’m actually practicing feeling, allowing, and tolerating uncomfortable sensations, allowing uncomfortable feelings to be there. Now, I know the title of this episode is How to Tolerate Uncomfortable Sensations. The reason I’ve done that is because even though I realized emotions was the thing I was avoiding, really when I get down to it and we break down a feeling, a feeling is just a combination of a thought with a sensation. I’ve done episodes on how to tolerate thoughts, but I really wanted to really practice, and this is what I’m doing: Okay, I’m feeling sad. I’ve had a lot of sadness lately show up in my body. Where does it show up? For me, it’s right at the front of my shoulders. I want to just pull my shoulders forward and curl my spine into a C-shape and just contract and go into fetal position. When I feel sad, I just want to drop my head down onto the table. I want to drop the muscles in my face and I just go exhausted. Instead of going, “Oh, I’m noticing that I’m sad,” be compassionate to your sadness, but bring it straight back to the present, pull your shoulders back. I’m actually just making space for the sadness. I don’t slump and jump into bed and stay there all day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m not engaging in sadness. I’m not just responding to sadness with apathy or depression, but I’m actually just spending time there and just going, “Yes, Kimberley, this is sadness. This is the sensation of sadness. It’s okay to have these.” Let’s stay with them. We don’t have to stay with them all day, but let’s just honor them first. Let’s stop jumping to mindfulness and compassion really fast. Let’s actually stay in the sensations. You can still go about your day. You can still be highly functioning. We still want you to be doing those mindfulness and those exercises. But my question to you is: Are you really allowing that to be there or are your emotions holding you hostage? – which I think is what was happening. As I’ve always said to you, if you have a fear, stare it in the face. That’s how you get empowerment over that fear. If you avoid the fear, that fear has power over you. And then you’re always going to feel like your fear controls your life. The same goes for sensations. If you have uncomfortable sensations and you immediately remove your attention from them to the present or other things, now your sensations have control over you. You’re giving them all the power and you’re afraid of them. This is where I pose another question: Are you afraid of your uncomfortable sensations? If so, let’s practice feeling them as an exposure. Without knowing it, my coach who is not an exposure therapist is technically giving us a mini-exposure by saying, “No practice staying in the sensations of sadness or anxiety or happiness or exhaustion or whatever it may be. Practice tolerating and staying with them and still doing what the non-anxious you would do, or the non-sad you would do.” Like I said, I’m not going to say, “Oh, I have to feel my sadness. I need to stop what I’m doing, stop this podcast and go and lay in bed.” I’m still going to talk to you guys and do what lines up with my values, which is to talk with you guys, connect with you guys, and so forth. But I’m going to say, “Okay, I’m observing that my shoulders feel that heavy feeling or my head feels that heavy feeling or my heart hurts. Can I just breathe into that?” Now you may want to set some timers for this and say, once you identify it, “Okay, for the next 15 seconds, I’m going to just do this for 15 seconds.” Then you may say, “Okay, let’s try it for 30 seconds.” While I feel this anxiety – shortness of breath, tingling, tight chest, derealization, lump in your throat, panic sensations, racing thoughts – while I tolerate these sensations, can I practice coupling them with my life? So, while I’m feeling the emotion and the sensation, can I type up my email? Can I couple those two together? And when I do that, I might even say to myself, “Okay, this is me doing an email, writing an email while having the sensations of sadness or anxiety or anger or shame or whatever it may be.” Just by that, you’re having this experience of learning how to have emotions and sensations and you’re learning a sense of mastery over them. Now, some of you have probably thought like, “Well, she’s told me this before,” which is why I said I’m slightly embarrassed because I know this stuff and I’ve probably said it on this podcast before, but I wasn’t practicing it. Now, humbled to say that we’re all working this out. We’re all figuring this out. I was just listening to this wonderful meditation from my meditation teacher. He was saying that meditation is really like a huge Ashram. If you had the job of cleaning a large Ashram, you’d start in one room and you’d go to the next one, you’d go to the next one, and you’d go to the next one. You’d slowly get it done. By the time you finish, the first room you cleaned is dirty again. So you got to start again. He’s like, the goal of meditation is not to get the house clean and be like, “Good, I’m done. I’m all done,” slapped my fingers together. “It’s all good.” That’s not what this is about. That’s not what recovery is. I really resonated with that. I feel like I have to tell my clients these stories as well because recovery isn’t a one-and-done. For me, literally, that’s me. I’ve cleaned every room in the house. I’ve circled back. And now I’m like, “Oh, there’s another thing. There’s another area of improvement for me. Oh no. Oops.” You know what I mean? My son always goes, “Oops.” It is total “Oops, okay.” This is a wonderful opportunity for us. This is not about learning how to be uncomfortable and you’re done. This is about really having mastery over any sensation, any thought, any feeling that you may have. Any urge, any image, anything – having mastery over that. Not even mastery. Let’s just actually scale back. Let’s actually say, “Just knowing you can,” that’s enough. Let’s not talk about mastery. That sounds too big for me right now. Let’s just talk about knowing that I can. If I had to have anger or I had to have sadness or had to have anxiety, I know I could. Let’s stay there. I hope this has been helpful. I am more than happy to share with you my shortcomings because I think that it makes me very human. It gives you permission to be very human. You guys know that I try not to take myself too seriously. I am on a journey with figuring this out too. Hey, let’s just keep cleaning one room at a time and enjoy this learning. Thank you so much for listening. Please do leave a review if you enjoy the show or not. Please leave an honest review. We would love to get a review from you. I’m just sending you much love. Take care, everybody. These are difficult times. I want to really offer my loving-kindness to you, offer a gesture of kindness and warmth and compassion to you if you are struggling. Have a wonderful day. I will talk to you soon. Please note that this podcast or any other resources from cbtschool.com should not replace professional mental health care. If you feel you would benefit, please reach out to a provider in your area. Have a wonderful day, and thank you for supporting cbtschool.com.