This post was written by my wife, Mary-Anne Wijting, LPCC. Mary-Anne is a counselor, a psychotherapist in Monterey, California. People come to see her because they feel they are stuck mentally. They may have relational issues, trouble getting over traumatic experiences, or any other of a host of possible mental issues. Common to many of them is that they also have physical symptoms – tightness in the shoulders and neck, pain in the low back, pain and inflammation jumping around between different parts of the body.
It is no surprise to anyone that mental stress will trigger physical symptoms. What is surprising to most is to what extent this occurs. Put in a different way, your physical symptoms are very likely to be influenced by your mental state of mind. They may even be caused by it.
Mindfulness is a technique used by Mary-Anne and many counselors to help bring awareness to what’s happening in the mind and in the body. I have found it to be very beneficial to patients who practice it. read on…
Counseling 101: Don’t run
You are having a bad day. Maybe you are fighting with your spouse or somebody just bumped into your car. Maybe your boss just shouted at you and you don’t have anyone to talk to. Or maybe you’re panicking because you’re running out of money. Whatever the reason, you are an emotional mess. Don’t panic! The practice of mindfulness can help.
The first thing most people want to do when faced with pain of any sort, be it physical or emotional is to run from it. You may feel the need to take medications to sooth yourself or comfort yourself with alcohol or drugs. You feel the strong urge to numb the pain.
Emotional pain is harder to run from than physical pain but the desire to escape is the same: an all-consuming obsession to get rid of the unpleasantness.
Unfortunately with psychological pain, the more you try to flee or run away, the more these emotions will pursue you. You may run to drugs, alcohol, pornography, or other quick fixes to temporarily blunt the pain, but the guilt and shame associated with these behaviors will be quick to follow. Worst of all, the feeling that triggered it all will come surging back with a vengeance!
Counseling 102: Mindfulness
First of all, take a deep breath. Tell yourself to stop running. Yes, you are in pain. It’s OK. Don’t deny it. This is not fun. Don’t be hard on yourself; you are not a failure. It takes time to develop tolerance for these unpleasant feelings but as you practice this, things will start to shift.
Try to practice some curiosity:
- Observe yourself with curiosity
- Observe the situation with curiosity
- Observe the way you feel with curiosity
- Locate the sensations these feelings are creating in your body
What you are doing is called ‘floating with the feeling’. You accept that you are not feeling great and you are actively exploring the feeling, rather than running from it. Try to practice remaining with your observations versus going to the usual fix.
This process is called mindfulness. You step outside of the situation to observe what’s going on in a non-threatening way, almost like befriending the sensation versus trying to kill it.
Keep practicing these new behaviors, like casualness and curious exploration versus desperation and damning introspection. This is a positive step towards developing emotional maturity.
The good news is, the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it!