Practical tips for contending with discomfort

How is everyone doing?

This has officially been The Year of Discomfort. We've collectively experienced uncomfortable circumstances and events, lived our lives in uncomfortable ways and had uncomfortable conversations about uncomfortable topics.

As if 2020 hasn't provided enough opportunities for unease, the holiday season is now upon us. The holidays will look and feel different for most. What we thought would be a sprint has become a marathon, and the distress in our lives seems to be ongoing.

Contending with a certain amount of discomfort in our lives is to be expected. This year, however, we've experienced a high dose of uncertainty coupled with our personal sense of safety and security being altered. So, exactly what can we do with all this discomfort?

• Take pause.

Sometimes our body needs grounding before we can attend to our mind. Existing in a continuously stressful state creates physical tension in our bodies. Corny as it may sound, five to 10 deep breaths actually helps re-set your central nervous system. Breathe in for 5 counts, hold for 5, exhale for 5. Repeat as necessary.

• Identify obstacles to well-being.

Often they're related to imbalance in our lives, something we've experienced in multitudes lately. Compile a list of things that challenge your well-being and those that enhance it.

• Shift your relationship with discomfort.

Fluctuating between overreaction and immobilization is easy when circumstances feel out of our control and life feels imbalanced. Discomfort typically arises from how we think, which affects our ability to regulate emotions and change behaviors.

Now, more than ever, it's important to focus on things we can control. We have the ability to shift how we are impacted by circumstances that aren't in our control by adjusting how we think about and react to them.

• Take action.

If you find you're spending too much time on the minutia, temporarily shift your focus to the non-negative aspects of the bigger picture and vice versa. Set a boundary where needed. Let go of something. Dedicate less negative energy to one thing taking up too much emotional space. Attend to something you've been avoiding. Pace and space things differently. Laugh. We must laugh. Go back to the list of things that enhance your well-being, and try to incorporate one into your day.

Consider when chunking your time could help. Chunking time is the concept of breaking your day up into larger chunks instead of reacting to constant interruptions. It's an alternative to multitasking and thought to be more efficient because it involves less start up time as you constantly switch between tasks. Parents working from home with a remote learning child could schedule check in times in lieu of interruptions occurring throughout the day.

Remember, change can sometimes require more than one attempt or several small steps vs. one big step.

• Get support if needed.

Remaining present with feelings, though uncomfortable, is a strength while getting "stuck" in them can exacerbate discomfort. If you find you're stuck in negative patterns of behavior or relying on unhealthy coping skills more often than not to deal with discomfort, give yourself permission to seek professional help. There's little to lose in doing so, while not getting help when needed can be detrimental to you and others in your life.

Stay tuned, fellow Hinsdaleans - on Dec. 3 I will delve further into why it can be difficult to shift your relationship with discomfort and make lasting changes.

- Alisa Messana of Hinsdale is a licensed clinical social worker and a mental health consultant.