Finding the wisdom within your distress: a practical start to self understanding and compassion

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

We all experience distress...

When you experience feelings of distress, remember that it is an intelligent, well meaning response to help us bring awareness to something that needs attention.

When we pay attention to these signals, we not only can feel relief from our distress but we also may find new ideas and insight for problems that we were trying to solve.

This article gives you a few steps that you can take to begin to discover the wisdom within your own distress. You are not alone. We're in this together.

1. Untangle the web of distress

In periods of disruption, our system is responding to a TON of change.

We are picking up on all sorts of things, so when we feel distress, it can feel expansive, like it's taken over everything, a knot that we cannot undo.

Give yourself some time to write about what you are sensing and feeling, letting out anything that wants to be expressed.

By writing things down or speaking to a friend, you can begin to see more clearly what's going on and what is needed.

2. Discover your unique default modes

We all have ways that we’ve learned to take care of ourselves and survive in the world.

Our default modes have been cultivated by our environments - encouraged by parents, explicitly or implicitly rewarded by our peers and reinforced by our culture.

To start to find your own default modes, you can think about how you would describe yourself to colleagues or friends.

Examples of default modes for many high performing professionals include things like independence, productivity and adaptation.

3. Recognize when your default modes go into hyperdrive

Our default modes have helped us get what we need in our world.

But when our system feels threatened, our default modes often will go into hyperdrive in order to help take care of our needs. Because we are so used to these ways of being, it may feel like the only solution to support ourselves in the midst of uncertainty.

But often this shift into overdrive can result in more distress, creating more imbalance in our system.

For example, independence in hyperdrive may look like doing everything on your own, productivity in hyperdrive may look like never taking a break, and adaptation may look like only paying attention to the needs and demands of others and forgetting about your own.

4. Shift into a new gear : taste the opposite

When our default modes are in hyperdrive, it can feel like its the only way out, the only way to safety.

But if we can zoom out and understand our deeper need behind the hyperdrive, we can also begin to serve that need in creative ways. One way to do so is to think of the opposite of your default mode and take a "small dose" of that opposite behavior.

For example, the opposite of independence is dependence, neediness and a small dose of that could look like asking for help. The opposite of productivity is laziness and a small dose of that could look like doing only what is necessary, setting priorities. The opposite of adaptation is selfishness and a small dose of that could be speaking your needs or setting boundaries.

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