Tuning In Instead of Tuning Out

For some, distraction is easy, but there are many people who are struggling to turn off the endless transmission of fear, along with the constant cacophony of stress, depression, and anxiety. Our inability to mute the volume, while still waiting for the other shoe to drop, can increase both our desperation, and overall sense of powerlessness. Mental fatigue then becomes not only associated with the noise itself, but by the effort to turn it off completely. But what if turning it off is not the point? I know that no one can handle being exposed to the loud din all the time (perhaps putting us at risk of a ruptured eardrum), but what if there was a way to actually manage the sound, without exhausting ourselves in an effort to avoid it.
Nancy, 52, lost her job in retail when the stores closed. She discussed the stuck-ness of her situation while also discussing how her current experience felt eerily familiar to her, based on past events. She talked about her feelings of isolation, helplessness, and how she ruminated constantly about her job loss. But she also expanded on how what she was experiencing now, reminded her of what it was like growing up with an alcoholic and abusive mother. Her past experience had also left her feeling isolated and trapped, but just at a different point in time. Feeling activated by both past and current events, she became increasingly frustrated.

“I can’t turn it off.” The exhaustion in her voice was evident as she referred to the ongoing static. We discussed how in her best efforts to avoid the thoughts and feelings she was experiencing (which felt bigger now due to the constant streaming of past events), she was actually feeling more desperate, helpless, and overwhelmed. We talked about how every reaction felt big, and how every time she told herself not to think about something, it just ensured that she would. Through our conversations, and my own feelings of stuck-ness as I tried to help her, we began to realize that we might be focusing on the wrong part of the problem. The goal wasn’t to stop the noise, but to actually learn how to manage it.

We began to talk about how she needed to recalibrate in order to set herself up for success. Her new practice, involved tuning in instead of tuning out. She began to pause long enough to actually acknowledge a painful moment, rather than trying to silence it. By identifying what she was thinking, and naming what she was feeling, she gave herself a powerful opportunity to do something to move through it, thus taking better care of herself in the process. She began to realize that she could keep going, even if the chatter continued, versus engaging in the former practice of constant avoidance, which had only served to overwhelm her completely. In addition to pausing long enough to tune into her experience, thereby enabling herself to actually do something about it, she began to lean into the power of opposite.

Acting opposite to painful feelings and subsequent urges, allowed her the chance to self-correct, and to also restore some balance to her every day life. For example, when she would feel symptoms of depression, we discussed how she would get up and meet the day, even though her depression threatened to keep her in bed. Although at times she would still feel depressed, she acknowledged feeling less depressed then if she had stayed in bed with the covers pulled over her head.

Acting opposite is also a powerful medicine for anxiety. If I am anxious, and my heart is racing, then the practice is to stop, be still, and focus on deep breathing, even when anxiety screams in my ear to speed up. We cannot be in a state of hyper-arousal and relaxation at the same time. Feel the shift before you start moving again.

Distraction is not always possible, and may be even more difficult to find right now due to limited exposure to the outside world, and an endless news feed that tells us to be afraid. But what if constant distraction is actually not the point? We are supposed to have feelings, which requires us to feel them. What if we can build our ability to tolerate the discomfort we are experiencing at any given moment AND move through it? What if we could tune into the full range of emotions and continue to take action, versus waiting for the clamor to stop before we do? The noise is there, for some it is louder than others, but we can learn to control the volume and not allow it to drown out our resilience.

Clear Reflections

What am I feeling?

What is the thought that is behind the feeling that I am currently experiencing?

What can I do to feel effective in this moment?

What can I do to distract myself when I am feeling overwhelmed?

What will I do to keep moving even when I am feeling this feeling? How can I act opposite to what I am experiencing right now?

What can I do to turn down the noise? How can I turn up the volume to remind me about what matters most?

Practice acknowledgement. Do what works. Keep going.

Speak Your Mind


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