I’m excited about our upcoming late April vacation. It’s a 3-day weekend of camping and bicycling through North Carolina’s countryside. You don’t need any time at all to shift into vacation mode when you’re on a bicycling tour. You immediately let go of your day-to-day concerns to be in the present moment. You are fully in your body, allowing your mind to rest, restore and renew.
That sounds great, right? But of course, there’s some less than awesome aspects to it! We did the same event last year, and it turned out to be unusually cold at night. It was painful waking up to temperatures so cold that our toothpaste had frozen overnight! Even if the weather is warmer this year, the nights will still be chilly. I can’t say that I like that prospect.
Then there’s the whole getting in shape thing. Because the trip is in early spring, we have to be ready for more than just some chilliness: we have to get back in shape for distance riding. There’s pain involved in regaining the endurance needed for three days of 30-60 mile rides!
To enjoy the positive aspects of this kind of vacation, I have to be able to tolerate its discomforts.
Tolerance for Difficult Emotions
We can’t laugh heartily unless we know how to cry. We can’t be fearless unless we know the taste of fear. We can’t be happy if we’re afraid to feel sad. Our faith is not faith until it’s tested.
~ Miriam Greenspan, Healing Through the Dark Emotions https://miriamgreenspan.com
Similarly, the ability to experience positive emotion requires that we have distress tolerance – the ability to withstand painful emotion. (Greenspan, 2004).
Healing, well-being, and wholeness are found in turning toward and learning from all of our emotions.The skills involved — emotional tolerance and mindfulness — are skills that an be developed and strengthened.. (Greenspan, 2004). One of the best ways I know for doing this is through writing.
We’re naturally motivated to avoid pain and suffering when possible, and there’s a wisdom in that. Protecting ourselves from pain and injury helps us survive.
But we also need to be able to tolerate the discomfort of negative feelings. Over time, avoiding or suppressing negative emotion due to a lack of distress tolerance leads to more, rather than less, emotional distress.
Mindful Awareness of Emotion
I was angry, angry, angry when we did the writing about the past. Angry that the past was still following me. That was when I realized that I was still carrying around old baggage The writing helped me see that it was behind me. It was no longer necessary to hold on and keep carrying it with me. That was like an epiphany. A weight was taken off my shoulders. It was like someone opened a door for me and I could move forward. I felt free!
~ Kelly Hill-Ross, Participant, Transform Your Health: Write to Heal
As Transform Your Health: Write to Heal participant Kelly Hill-Ross discovered, there is tremendous value in tolerating distressing emotion. We need skills in distress tolerance and mindfulness in order to benefit from our difficult, painful emotions. Both skills can be developed and strengthened through expressive writing – writing that fully, honestly and authentically describes our deepest thoughts and feelings.
Writing lets us strengthen our distress tolerance by connecting us with our negative emotions. It helps us see that sitting with negative emotions brings us to our positive emotions. We learn from our dark emotions and benefit from releasing them and moving forward from them.
Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.
Writing is an inherently mindful activity, bringing our internal landscape – our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and values – into awareness, where they can be compassionately understood and accepted.
Writing helps us become aware of new perspectives, find meaning in difficult experiences, and create a realistic vision for moving forward positively.
Transform Your Health: Write to Heal
Experience for yourself how powerful writing is in helping us to become whole, embracing and gaining from our full range of emotions. I invite you to join us for six weeks, April 16-May 21 for my first online offering of Transform Your Health: Write to Heal. Don’t miss your chance to get one of the limited seats at a special, introductory rate!
Greenspan, M. (2004). Healing through the dark emotions. The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
Kashdan, T. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2014). The upside of your dark side. Why being your whole self – not just your “good” self – drives success and fulfillment. New York NY: Hudson Street Press