Delve into discomfort, shift relationship to it

Two weeks ago, I wrote about focusing on tips for dealing with discomfort, something 2020 has provided us in spades. As we continue to experience the perfect storm of physical, psychological and financial distress, let's consider why things can feel uncomfortable and shifting your relationship with discomfort.

So, how comfortable are you with being uncomfortable? Some people seem able to go with it, while others fervently avoid discomfort. Some folks, consciously or unconsciously, are more comfortable living in an uncomfortable state. Sometimes, people remain stuck in discomfort because contending with the layers underneath is frightening. Most of us deal with discomfort but - let's face it - we'd prefer not to. Feeling uncomfortable often means we feel vulnerable, which can be scary.

A bevy of things can make us uncomfortable. Fear of the unknown, feeling judged or disliked, loss, making mistakes or not having enough are just a few. In addition, there are many reasons why it may be difficult to shift your relationship with discomfort. Perhaps it was the way feelings were dealt with in your family growing up or maybe you didn't learn self soothing skills that benefit rather than those that don't (i.e. using food or alcohol to comfort). We may look to others to make us feel better instead of ourselves or have unresolved loss/trauma that's left us feeling sad or angry. We can become triggered by current experiences that remind us of a past developmental stage that was difficult. Discomfort can also often arise from what we wish something to be instead of what it is.

In thinking about shifting your relationship with discomfort, I invite you to consider that discomfort can actually have an upside. Author Lisa Damour believes experiencing difficult times can create durability. I like the word durability because it doesn't minimize challenges we're experiencing, but rather suggests we can withstand them and remain functional. To become durable, it's important to possess awareness about the "what" and the "why" when we're feeling uncomfortable. This involves vulnerability, and it's helpful to understand being vulnerable doesn't necessarily mean you're unsafe. Growth can come out of discomfort if we're open to it.

I've been thinking a lot about what our children are taking in around how we contend with discomfort. As parents, we currently have a major opportunity to impart lessons in dealing with difficult feelings to a future generation of parents. Modeling durability to our children isn't about never making mistakes or having bad days. The opportunities are in how we react to those mistakes and stressful days.

In order to make lasting changes to deal with discomfort, it's important to get to know your discomfort better. Becoming familiar with what specifically makes you uncomfortable and why it does so can be hard work. However, being emotionally durable and able to tolerate uncomfortable feelings is a such a key life skill applicable for many future situations to come.

As we move through this holiday season, I encourage each and every one of you to practice self-appreciation for the ways you've tackled discomfort and encourage you to keep doing so.

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