Let’s be honest; we all tend to switch into struggle mode when we experience physical and emotional pain such as anger, sadness, loneliness, grief, frustration, despair, or painful memories. Whatever discomfort we feel, we try to do our best to get rid of the pain or to avoid it.
Trapped in a vicious cycle of struggle
So imagine you are awake in bed at night with anxiety. Then it’s like, “Oh no! Here is that terrible anxiety again. Why does it keep coming back? How do I get rid of it?” What happens now is that you start being afraid of your anxiety. In other words, your anxiety just got worse. “Oh, no! It’s getting worse and worse! Why is it doing this?” Now you’re even more scared!
Then you could become angry about your anxiety: “This isn’t fair. Why does this keep happening?” Or you could get depressed about it: “Not again. Why do I always feel like this?” All these secondary emotions are equally unpleasant, unhelpful, and they’re useless draining your energy.
And then – guess what? This experience makes you even more anxious or depressed! Do you see the vicious cycle?
It’s not about getting rid of your problem, it’s about getting rid of your struggle
But now let’s assume you decide not to struggle with your anxiety, no matter how uncomfortable it is. So anxiety appears, but this time you don’t fight it. It’s like, “Okay, here’s a knot in my stomach. Here’s a tightness in my chest. Here are sweaty palms and shaky legs. Here’s my mind telling me a bunch of scary stories.” It’s not that you like it or that you want it. It’s still unpleasant. But you’re not wasting your time and energy fighting it.
Your anxiety levels can gradually rise and fall as the situation requires. Sometimes it will be high, sometimes low, and sometimes there will be no anxiety at all. But now you are in control of your response and save valuable energy for the next day.
We cannot avoid pain if we choose to live a meaningful life
Let’s face it, we all have challenges in our lives, and each of us experiences physical and emotional discomfort from time to time. When our problems and challenges are minor, and our painful emotions are mild, it is often quite easy to avoid, distract, escape, or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. But the greater our challenges and the more intense our emotions are, the less we can do this.
Especially if we choose to live a full and meaningful life, there is no way to avoid pain. Pain and the discomfort that comes with it are a natural part of our lives. But when we start to struggle with it, the discomfort increases rapidly, and we are confronted with much additional suffering. Going into struggle mode is like an emotional ampliﬁer.
Stop struggling reduces additional pain
So there is nothing we can do about the natural discomfort that comes with pain, but we can drastically reduce the additional discomfort if we stop struggling. And for this, we need to stop running away from our pain. We need to open ourselves up to our feelings and accept them as a natural part of our life. This includes our willingness not to change or reduce feelings but to accept them—to allow them to be there without a struggle.
In this video, I want to show you a simple but powerful mindfulness exercise about how you can learn to do that; how to accept whatever is showing up in your mind and body. (At the beginning of the exercise, I will ask you to pick a feeling or thought you are currently or often struggle with; so you may want to think about it before tuning in.)
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