Seeking Out and Managing Discomfort
by Tom Horvath, PhD
A well-lived life needs to have significant and possibly considerable amounts of discomfort in it. For instance, do you want to exercise well, maintain a certain weight, get up early, work hard at something, or hold your tongue in an intense discussion? You are likely to feel uncomfortable! The key, then, is to learn skills for managing discomfort that will inevitably come.
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In particular, if you want to stop an addictive problem, you are likely to have a transition period as you change how you live. Cravings might die off almost entirely after 90 days (although there is no guarantee they will completely), but other challenges might last much longer. Maybe you should just give up now? Fortunately, you have already accepted discomfort in your life and moved through it. Some discomforts, like exercising hard, are always going to be there, but we accept them and adjust. Perhaps most importantly, we learn how to manage these discomforts.
Considerations for Managing Discomfort
There are many specific techniques for managing discomfort. We can build up to it over time (using the principle of small steps). For instance, we can work out easily at first, and build tolerance over time (just as we did when we were developing our addictive problem). We can have realistic expectations and not run away because an activity starts to grow uncomfortable. We can keep long-term goals in mind, to help us accept the challenges and discomfort along the way. We can communicate with others and learn how they manage these discomforts. Specific discomforts may also respond to specific tactics. We can make the effort to learn those tactics. For instance, if you are hungry, try a celery stick, if craving alcohol try another beverage, or if upset focus on your breathing. By staying focused on managing discomfort, in time we can succeed, and reach the level of success that is important to us.
Rather than seeing life as a process of avoiding as much discomfort as possible, we can see life as the process of selecting our discomforts in order to end up where we want to be, confident that we can manage the discomfort involved in living in accordance with our goals and values.