When you’re tired of tolerating discomfort, you may have to learn to tolerate discomfort. Why does paradox always feel as though life is laughing at you?
For years, my tummy hurt. My joints ached. My muscles were weak. I broke out. I itched. My eyes were dry. I couldn’t sleep because I was so uncomfortable. Getting better meant I had to tolerate a different kind of discomfort. That’s often how healing goes.
It would be nice if things were always upward and onward, but they just don’t work that way. While the general trajectory may be up, there will be times that feel like dips. During those times, we have to endure and increase our window of tolerance so that we have more resilience when the next hurdle comes along.
You can think of this as emotional weightlifting. The resolve to continue on a healthier path is often affected by emotions. And sometimes, the body has trapped a traumatic response in its muscle memory. Releasing that requires a special kind of tolerance for discomfort.
When it comes to tummy troubles, most of us want to get rid of pain. That’s why we seek medical attention. Getting better begins with refusing to tolerate discomfort. But when we hit a dip in improvement or a treatment plan increases pain, refusing to tolerate momentary discomfort can derail healing. We need to be able to stick with the plan in spite of how we feel.
When it comes to emotional pain left from trauma, it’s possible to experience more discomfort from attempting to let it go from remaining caught in familiar pain. That doesn’t mean you like how you feel. It just means letting go may feel scary to the point of terrifying.
Either way, increasing tolerance for discomfort can be the key to staying on track. So how can you increase tolerance?
Patience. We all think our minds can stay ahead of our bodies. But the lower brain is wired to protect us from perceived danger. If it gets triggered, our behavior can sometimes surprise us. This is a normal part of the process. It’s messy but it doesn’t mean you’ll forever be out of control.
Stillness. You can’t learn to sit with discomfort unless you allow yourself to feel it. That won’t happen if you’re constantly moving, medicating, working, or otherwise distracting yourself.
Practice. Like any sort of desensitization, tolerance is built one step at a time. At first, a minute or two may be all you can handle but each moment will build on the next.
Balance. Regularly including an equal balance of something fun, joyous, pleasurable, or exciting will give you a space to move into that feels good once you’ve reached your current tolerance for discomfort.
Structure. When you feel messy inside, it’s beneficial to have routines, deadlines, accountability partners, and community to provide an environment that feels solid and stable.
Like everything, learning to tolerate discomfort is a process. The experience will be slightly different for each of us. The only thing we all have in common is that to build tolerance, we must start the process. Otherwise, it will not happen.
Talking about it won’t make it happen. Making promises won’t make it happen. Continuing to numb or distract will prevent it from happening.
We are all capable of more than we believe. We can tolerate more discomfort than we think we can. Don’t overthink. Just begin. Slowly, but surely, good things will happen.