Why being still can feel so painful | Sarah Woodhouse

Why being still can feel so painful

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There are many reasons being told to stay at home is painful. I could talk about the pressure on our relationships. I could talk about how we’re all being pushed into survival mode. I could talk about the uncertainty and the lack of control. I could talk about financial pressure. I could talk about boredom. I could talk about coping, and not coping.  

But I’m going to talk about the fact that when all life’s distractions, movement, compulsion, planning and projects are removed, we’re faced with our feelings. With no access to out there, we’re forced to be in here. Before, you raced from work to the gym, to meet your friends. You worked, you bought, you played. If stillness came knocking you looked at your phone or you frantically consumed information. You ran, even though you weren’t running. Honestly, so did I. And now? Now we’re all being asked to stop. To be still. To just be. OK, perhaps you’ve practiced mediation in the past? Maybe you’ve been on a yoga retreat? That’s great, and it will serve you in the weeks to come, but that finite stillness couldn’t prepare you for this. This is psyche bending of the highest order.

Today, we’re all confronted with what we’ve been running from. Although on some level our avoidance is very personal, it’s also shares a certain quality. Because in one way or another we’re all running from our feelings. From fear. From anxiety. From vulnerability. From shame. From anger. From insecurity. From that gnawing feeling you’re not enough. From…what? What feeling have you been running from? We all answer this question differently, but we can all answer it because this mechanism – to reach out there when something in here feels uncomfortable – is ubiquitously human. We all do it, even those of us who have trained themselves not to. Very few of us sit still long enough and frequently enough, to really feel it all.

Today, we’re all confronted with what we’ve been running from. Although on some level our avoidance is very personal, it’s also shares a certain quality. Because in one way or another we’re all running from our feelings.

In normal life, before all this, if I’d asked you to stay in doors for six months, with very little human contact, no routine to speak of and working only sporadically, you would have had a very (very) confronting six months. Now we’re in all this, it’s so much harder. Not only are you faced with what you’ve been running from, you’re also faced with new fears, new uncertainties, new challenges. All those feelings and nowhere to run. As I write this, my heart swells with love for us all – because this is hard.

Feeling our feelings is a process we all need to learn. One of the few beautiful things to come out of all this, is that you have an opportunity to lean into this process. To feel it all, perhaps for the first time in your life. If you can your life will be better after all this, not worse. Learn to sit with the feeling, no matter how uncomfortable. Observe it, name it, watch it. Don’t run. Don’t reach for something to take the edge off. We feel our feelings in our body, not our mind, so feel into the feeling in your body. Where is it? Where are you holding it? Where’s the tension? Is the sadness in your tummy? Your throat? Is the anxiety or fear in your chest? Your heart? Find where you’re holding the feeling, where you’re holding the tension. Notice it, gently observe it, don’t push it away. Breathe into the feeling, breathe into the tension, breathe into the anger, the fear or the anxiety. Breathe into the shame. Then, with love, breathe it out. As we gently release the tension from our body, we gently release some of the pain coupled with the feeling.

You’re faced with so much today. You’re carrying so much today. You and I have no choice but to do this, and we are. We are warriors you and I. We’ll do this right – we’ll feel it, we’ll cry, we’ll laugh. We’ll get through it remembering that the only way to come out the other side whole is to allow ourselves to feel, no matter how uncomfortable those feelings are. We’ll get through it, together.

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Sarah Woodhouse is a trauma expert, research psychologist and writer who delivers people the knowledge and tools to recognise and overcome self-defeating cycles, to achieve personal freedom and success.

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