Okay, so the easy topic for this month would be something related to being gracious and the positive effects that gratitude has on mental health, but that feels cliché, and I don't wanna do it.
So, what will I write about? PAIN! And any other negative emotion such as fear, anxiety, and sadness. You'll see why I put negative in quotes a bit later.
Pain is important and provides us with loads of information about ourselves and our environment. Without pain, we would be putting ourselves in harm's way over and over again. This goes for both physical and emotional pain. To explain this, I usually tell a story of how someone with Congenital Analgesia (insensitivity to pain) may grab a hot cast-iron pan and give themselves severe burns without realizing it. The wounds may then lead to infection and further risk, all because there was no pain to communicate to the person that they were in danger. Now, it's not a perfect comparison, and I'm hoping that it still gets the point across. If we avoid or don't stop to experience the pain within our lives, we will also be ignoring and avoiding the messages that our body and mind are giving us, which can lead to dissociation, numbing, memory loss, decreased focus, and eventually difficulty discerning and trusting our own emotions. Without pain and adversity, we have no reason to grow, we stay stuck, we may feel like our lives lack direction.
Example. If you end a relationship with someone, you may feel heartbreak and sadness. It can also lead to manufactured emotions of guilt and shame (these are emotions based on our own thoughts about a situation rather than the direct reaction to the situation). The manufactured emotions are not the most helpful, as they're often based on judgment and all created by ourselves (that's a whole other post). The heartbreak and sadness, however, are helpful; they drive us to seek out the support of others; to create new relationships, and to strengthen the existing ones.
TIPS & TRICKS
One way to increase our ability to manage painful emotions is to use the “ABC” skill from Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
Accumulate Positives - In the short term do small things you enjoy for the long term, work toward a goal that you’d like to accomplish
Build Mastery - Do activities that you are competent in and have mastered, things that you enjoy and are good at.
Cope Ahead - If you’ll be entering a potentially emotional situation, plan ahead for how you can handle it, come up with a backup plan if necessary.
Pain is unavoidable, it’s part of living. To deal with pain, we must adjust our expectations, grieve our losses, listen to our distress, and feel. Yes, it’s difficult. No, it does not last forever!
Until next time, notice your pain!
The Importance of Pain - Christine Carter
The Importance of Accepting Painful Emotions - Judy Scheel PhD, LCSW, CEDS
7 Practical Strategies to Overcome Emotional Pain - Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD