A friend of mine says that comfort is the enemy of change. In other words, discomfort wants you to change so you will feel better. But when it comes to not getting things done, we can be extremely creative about feeling good about it. Does this sound familiar, “To be at my most productive, I need some down time, so I’ll just sleep in. . .”?
When you are living life out-of-balance, your mind and/or body begins to tell you with discomfort of one type or another (sickness, soreness, panic attacks, anxiety, etc). Remember, if you ignore an imbalance, you are more likely to experience further discomfort; and that discomfort is more likely to become even more pronounced, more obnoxious, more overwhelming—even going from mental to physical. If you deny it or ignore it, or notice it but act/think in old ways anyway, it will continue to bug you until you change what you need to change.
Masking the symptoms doesn’t work for long
Sometimes people will make their goal one of minimizing just the discomfort without changing the behaviors and thoughts behind it. Usually, through some sort of addictive behavior, this ‘relief’ is not long lasting, and the discomfort comes back stronger.
When you address the thoughts (and their resulting behaviors), you address the source of the discomfort more directly. Whether a person first addresses thoughts or behaviors or sees them as interrelated, will depend on the individual and their unique wiring and experience of life. If you are unsure where is best for you to start, talk to a counselor, teacher, mentor, etc.
I have seen highly respected teachers like Eckart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, and Ram Dass. comment on how Fear, Anger, and other “negative” emotions block us from joy. I know what they are pointing at, but I believe that it can be easy to miss what I believe they are pointing at: That these emotional experiences are there to serve a purpose. That we need to be mindful of these “negative” states in order to leverage them for our growth towards happiness. In other words, there are 2 versions of all emotions: Asleep (unhealthy) and Awake (healthy). When awake, they function as simply as warning lights that motivate us to become more balanced and thereby eliminate the need for the warning.
Let’s take Fear for example. Asleep fear paralyzes us and we feel scattered, confused, and panicked; whereas Awake fear helps us to pay attention (ie be mindful) of our circumstances so that we can protect ourselves from whatever the perceived threat is. Fear is an amazing teacher! People say that if you ask a soldier if they are scared when going into combat, they will reply “Of course! If you are don’t have fear, then you are either not paying enough attention, or you are lying, or you not quite wired right.” Now I don’t like the idea of asking soldiers to get into their combat experiences, so let’s just agree that this makes sense. In terms of survival, fear is necessary. Our physical response is that our senses become more sensitive, blood rushes to where we need it (so we can see, hear, feel etc. better, and so that we can fight, flee or freeze more effectively); the discomfort is motivating us to take care of whatever the threat is. The biological system responsible for this is called the parasympathetic nervous system. Fight or Flight (or Freeze). Etc.
People who have panic attacks are experiencing the Fight or Flight (or Freeze) mechanism in the absence of a life-threatening situation (they feel like a tiger is chasing them, but there’s no tiger).
Learn more about Mindfulness-based Counseling in Austin.
Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan is a Gottman-trained Couples Counselor, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.