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  • Writer's pictureTed Bradshaw

Something to think about, something to do


Anxiety, sadness, guilt, anger, shame, disgust and many other emotions can be intensely uncomfortable. Understandably, we generally want to be rid of them. That can lead us to choose behaviours that allow us to avoid the way that we feel:

 

Avoidance:

 

Literally avoiding things that make me anxious, whatever it is. If it’s social anxiety, I am likely to avoid social situations or keep myself in the corner if I have to go. If I am sad about losing someone, I might avoid thinking about them or reminders of them.

 

Distraction:

 

Cleaning, keeping busy, scrolling, online shopping, games, watching TV, keeping my headphones in all the time, overworking. Essentially: anything that occupies my mind where so don’t really feel anything at all.

 

Squashing:

 

We might also sometimes find ourselves squashing our emotions with things like alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, or even food. It is part of our general assumptions that having a drink at the end of a Friday is the start of unwinding.

 

When we do these things to avoid emotion, we do them because they work. In that moment, we feel things less intensely.

 

This might not be an issue for us at all, but sometimes it is the things we are doing to avoid our emotions that cause us the biggest problems, or keep the problem going:

 

  • I feel stressed and anxious about work, so I keep busy in the evenings to try to take my mind off it, but now I am completely exhausted.

  • I avoid social situations because they make me anxious, but now I feel isolated.

  • I end up drinking a glass of wine at the end of each day to help me unwind, but now I can’t unwind without it.

 

In therapy, often we are working with the assumption that emotions are not harmful. If we can allow ourselves to recognise and accept our feelings and just let them be, they will rise up and eventually come down, like a wave.

 

An example would be if a child was upset about their favourite toy breaking: it’s totally reasonable to be upset and we can’t necessarily take that pain away, so instead what we might do is just hold them and let them cry. It would be very intense for a while, and eventually it would start to come down. There might be more waves in the future, but all we need to do is let it come.

 

Maybe we don’t need to distract or avoid. Maybe all we need to do is practice letting ourselves sit and feel things. Let them come and ride them out like a wave.

 

Something to think about


What are the things you end up using to squash your emotions when you are anxious, stressed or sad?


Something to do


One way of letting your emotions ride out like a wave is with writing. Try this out at some point today:

  • With a blank page and a pen or pencil, start your writing with: “right now I feel…” and then see what comes out

  • The key is to write as fast as you can, without stopping and without worrying about grammar or spelling

  • It is allowing yourself to write without a filter. It doesn’t have to make sense or reach a conclusion and it isn’t a to-do list. The purpose is to let yourself really be honest about how you feel

A tip:

  • If you struggle to access how you feel, start with how your body feels, because sometimes that is an easer way in. For example: “Right now I feel really tense in my shoulders and I think this is because…”


 

Thanks for reading! Until next week,

 

Ted

 

P.S. the main way to tell the difference between a behaviour you are solely using to distract yourself and something you just like doing is: do you get anything from it?

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