Helpful articles for overcoming life's challenges

Trouble Controlling Uncomfortable Thoughts or Emotions?

As human beings, we all get to experience emotional discomfort such as anxiety, anger, depression, helplessness or guilt. Emotional discomfort is something that is to a large degree outside of our control as human beings.  Life will bring all of us painful feelings and thoughts from time to time.  And, when it does, we often try to control or eliminate the painful emotions, thoughts or sensations we experience.

At that point, we tend to believe that we can actually control or eliminate these unwanted experiences.

As you try to not have or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings, what do you notice?  Let’s say you are anxious about giving a public speech.  You try not to be anxious before going in front of a crowd. Do these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings suddenly go away or do you notice something else?  Instead of getting smaller, your anxiety gets bigger.  So you keep on struggling.  This is also unsuccessful and you get increasingly anxious about your anxiety getting worse and feeling your attempts to stop it are unsuccessful.

This is what happens if experience brings you anxious thoughts and feelings, and you struggle to get rid of them. You end up with the original anxiety, plus new anxiety caused by the failed attempt to get rid of it.

So the struggle goes on and on, and the anxiety gets bigger and bigger.

Modern culture seems to have an unwritten rule that suffering is bad, and the absence of suffering is good, and that if something is bad, you should try to get rid of it by acting on it directly.  Although it is sometimes possible to get rid of negative things in the world by acting on them directly, this does not seem to be a successful technique when applied to painful thoughts and feelings. We are so deeply programmed into trying to get rid of bad stuff that the struggle against negative psychological content can seem automatic.  We live by the rule, ‘I must avoid my painful feelings.’  Do you think you have been successful in your life in getting rid of unwanted thoughts and emotions?

Ask yourself “what is the cost of this psychological maneuvering?”  It is really hard to be your best self when you are feeling powerless, helpless or anxious.  All of your energy and effort is spent on trying to eliminate that emotional discomfort. Imagine what could be possible for you investing that energy and effort on meaningful and life-enhancing actions?  So if you can’t control what shows up on the inside when life brings you pain, what can you control?

Willingness.  You can control your willingness.  Being willing to experience does not mean wanting to experience painful emotions, however.  It just means that you are open to fully experiencing your emotions, good and bad, without trying to suppress them, push them away or get rid of them.  Scientific studies have demonstrated that painful emotions tend to stay around longer when an individual tries to get rid of them directly.  A willingness to experience painful emotions will also prevent the pain escalating, which happens when an individual is unwilling to experience the pain, struggles to get rid of it, and adds frustration, depression, anxiety and maybe other negative emotions to the experience.

When faced with uncomfortable thoughts, feelings or sensations such as anxiety, anger, depression, etc., try out willingness by saying to yourself the following:

  • I am learning to let go of anger.
  • Each day I’m growing in my ability to master worry and anxiety.
  • I am learning not to feed my worries—to choose peace over fear.
  • I am learning to consciously choose what I think, and I choose thoughts that are supportive and helpful for me.
  • When angry thoughts come up, I can slow down, breathe, and let them go.
  • When anxious thoughts come up, I can make time to relax and release them.
  • Centering and grounding myself gives me the freedom of choice to move out of fear.
  • Anxiety is made of false thoughts—thoughts I can let go of.
  • When I see most situations as they truly are, there is nothing to be afraid of.
  • More and more, it’s becoming easier to relax and talk myself out of anxiety.
  • I am gaining more confidence in myself, knowing I can handle any situation that comes along.
  • As I take life more slowly and easily, I have more ease and peace in my life.
  • As I grow in my ability to relax and feel secure, I realize that there is truly nothing to fear.

No matter what you, your child or your family is struggling with, The Center for Collaborative Counseling and Psychiatry can help. You don’t have to navigate life’s inevitable challenges on your own, and there is always support, guidance and hope for meaningful growth, healing and change. Our team of experts can help you feel supported, heard, informed and relieved. We invite you to call 847-214-3651 to schedule an initial appointment.