Tolerating Discomfort

Happiness, joy, excitement, satisfaction, peace… the list goes on and on of emotions that have the ability to make us feel good when we experience them. For many people, we do not run away from experiencing emotions that make us feel good. In fact, a lot of us will try to hang on to them as long as we can enjoy the good feelings they bring. When it comes to tolerating emotions that make us feel good, many people experience that capability with ease.


Now let’s consider the flip side of the coin and think about the other range of emotions that come as a part of the human experience to feel. Anger, fear, sadness, guilt, loneliness, frustration… The list can go on and on when we consider the wide range of emotions that can cause us mental, physical, and emotional discomfort. Now when it comes to this specific range of emotions versus the ones discussed above, many people search for ways to “get rid of” or “fix” these difficult emotions. Cue the act of tolerating. The word tolerate can be interpreted in many ways, and for the sake of this blog I will define tolerate as “being capable of continued subjection to something we dislike without adverse reaction.” Sitting with that definition for a moment here, highlighting the words “Being Capable.” Are we capable of handling discomfort? The end goal answer to this would be YES, we are capable. We are strong, resilient, and capable of tolerating difficult emotions without adverse reactions or greater impacts on daily functioning. It is something that takes MUCH practice to believe in, but it is worth the effort and work to do so. So instead of “getting rid of” or “fixing” the difficult emotions, what would it be like to consider tolerating difficult emotions in the same way we are capable of tolerating the emotions that make us feel good?


Something that can be both reassuring and disappointing is the simple fact that emotions come and go, regardless of how long you may want them to stick around. Change is constant and always flowing and moving. When we experience an emotion, whether that emotion makes us feel good or brings us discomfort, that emotion will eventually pass. That being said, the next time you catch yourself experiencing an emotion that makes you feel discomfort, check in with yourself. The first step here is identifying the emotion. Once you identify the emotion, instead of labeling that emotion as “good” or “bad”, see if you can instead label it as nothing more than an emotion or physical sensation that will pass with time. Now with this in mind, can you tolerate it? Can you tolerate experiencing discomfort for a period of time?


An excellent tool to help tolerate difficult emotions is to create a simple, easy-to-remember mantra for yourself to say out loud in your head for those moments in which you are able to identify a difficult moment. An example of a mantra could be as simple as saying to yourself, “I can tolerate this. This feeling will pass.” In speaking this mantra, the last and final step is to breathe, four or five counts in, four or five counts out, for at least 1 full minute (or more!). Try this once and observe how you feel! Remember, this takes practice and is MUCH easier said than done. If you put in the practice to train the brain, the potential outcome could be one worth working towards!

Blog by Lauren Wein, Wild Tree Intern
Photo by Arina Krasnikova via Pexels

Wild Tree Wellness offers holistic, mind-body focused mental health therapy in Hastings, Eagan, White Bear Lake, and Saint Paul, Minnesota