Lesson #13: Tolerate the discomfort...
I have a career in nonprofit operations and risk management. I stumbled into the career, thanks to an extremely low tolerance for risk. People like me are who you want on an operations team. I can pull out a worst-case-scenario faster than you can say "Why can't we just start the work without a contract?"
I'm risk averse in all areas of my life, of course. I don't like to try new things that I think I won't be good at. I don't make big life decisions without extreme levels of deliberation. And my anxiety flares up every time I think about taking big risks - it's cunning in its method of protecting me. It does more than conjure up the worst case scenario; instead it belittles and judges. "You're thinking about what? What's wrong with you. Don't you know how dumb that sounds?" and meanwhile I've moved from taking normal breaths to shallowly gasping in air.
There's a thing my therapist and my couple's therapist say: Tolerate the discomfort. HA, I retort. Sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head. Sometimes passive aggressively by trying to wiggle out of my next therps appointment. "Tolerate the discomfort?" My asshole anxiety voice mocks. "Yeah ok. Why don't I just levitate off the ground and float on a cloud to nirvana while I'm at it?"
That's anxiety though right? Anxiety makes it tough to just sit with feelings, as I've reflected on before.
"If you don't try to tolerate the discomfort, you won't be able to move forward in taking risks."
"How do I know that my discomfort isn't legitimate though? How do I know that this kind of discomfort is worth tolerating for something better, versus other discomfort that is legitimately my body being like this thing is not working out for you?"
Therps smiles and nods.
You know what I kind of hate? When your therps is nodding and not actually giving you an answer to something. And you're on the verge of screaming "I'm actually ASKING YOU WHAT THE ANSWER IS" and then you don't because you know it doesn't work that way.
Anyway so she's smiling and nodding and I'm trying to figure out how to tell the difference between good discomfort and bad discomfort. And I get frustrated because my anxiety gets in the way of being able to tell and then I get frustrated that I have anxiety and then I get sad.
And what I sort of figure out after weeks of circling back on this question is - I'm asking two questions. One is how to actually tolerate the discomfort. Second is how to decide what discomfort to tolerate.
So I have a list now - to answer the first question anyway. Sometimes I write it out on bits of paper, mostly it lives in my head or my therps reminds me. You tolerate by breathing slow. You tolerate by talking to yourself and saying things like: "Hey you're doing this big thing here. And it's going to feel uncomfortable. But it's because you're trying to do something that may make you much happier. But doing new things is scary. But it's ok. You have a support system." Instead of silencing the discomfort, I practice quieting the anxiety. I can't expect the discomfort to cease altogether - I'm a risk mitigator after all. But I can tell my anxiety to pipe down a bit.
The second answer - how to decide what to tolerate - well, that's a whole other lesson.