Feel distress? No Thanks!! But can it really decrease my suffering?

Before leaving for vacation I had everything planned out and organized. I wanted to go on my trip and have nothing to worry about, to be able to be in relaxation mode from the second I left work. I wrote my next three weeks blogs, I did all my notes (a rarity for me), I did the laundry, cleaned the house, I was ready to go.

This worked wonderfully. I had an amazing vacation. Everything went as planned. Not a care in the world. I was ready to come home, relaxed and stress free. I had planned a Sunday to recover and re-adjust before returning to work.

When I landed I was waiting as the plane was taxiing to its gate and, just like everyone else, I turned on my cell phone. Then BAM reality hit. All my planning was gone. I was overwhelmed with stressors and to dos. I had expected to have emails to respond to, but not like this:

  • I was being audited by 2 insurance companies (every therapists worse nightmare)
  • A clerical error had accidently ended my relationship with an insurance company and they needed me to “request” reinstatement
  • And worst of all, my cat of 14 years, was dying and may not make it until I got home

I was flooded with emotion; my thoughts were racing. “How am going to handle all of this?” “What if he doesn’t make it until I get home?”  “Was my relaxing vacation a waste because I am so stressed now?” It didn’t feel like I even went away. The list went on and on.

Then I had to pause. What was really in my control? What could I address in this moment? Nothing. This was a moment of suffering for me. All I could really do was be in the moment, and feel the grief. Allow myself to feel the loss. I needed to practice mindfulness and self-compassion. The skills I preach every day and in the moment, I had lost. I was consumed with anxiety and frustration about work and grief about my cat.

As I began to slow down and allow myself to just be, the feeling of the loss of my cat got more intense. Ironic I know, but this was better. I was able to feel it, to know that this was the moment I was in and it wouldn’t last forever. My vacation was relaxing and nothing can take those moments away, they came and they went. This moment was a moment of pain and I needed to feel it. Trying to avoid my feelings had left me feeling overwhelmed and confused.

It is easy to get caught up in our thoughts and emotions. They sometimes have a repetitive quality. Trying not to think about our thoughts or feel our feelings only amplifies them (aka avoidance). This is why practicing mindfulness is so important. Learning to be aware and accept distressing thoughts and feelings helps us allow them to and go without battling with them.

Mindfulness reduces suffering.
And suffering is the result of resisting reality. Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional-Buddha

We resist reality by constantly thinking about the past or the future.

Focusing on the past leads to depression, hopelessness, and isolation. Focusing on the future leads to  anxiety, fear and worry.

Focusing on the past or the future leads to being overwhelmed. Now we are dealing with whatever emotions thinking about the past and future brought up, but also whatever emotions we are currently experiencing. It’s too much!

This is what happened to me when my plane landed. My thoughts and feelings began to be overloaded with the memories of the past and plans/fears of the future. I was unable to handle the immense sorrow of my loss. It wasn’t until I began to experience the moment that I was able to begin to grieve and process my feelings.

To learn more about how mindfulness can help change your life click here!

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