During my usual Tuesday at 12 therapy session I became agitated and squirrely. I could feel the tension and anxiety building in my chest hands, and feet. I wasn’t talking about a touchy subject, but I felt I was going to burst. I could feel overwhelming nervous energy bubbling up and festering inside of me.
I stopped what we were doing and I told my therapist what I was feeling. He looked at me pan faced and said “let’s go into it.” I wasn’t sure what he meant. Normally when he says things like that I start shutting down: I become uncomfortable and unsure how to process what I am being told. I thought he meant we would be “healing the inner child” like Carl Jung’s approach, and I struggle with that.
However, this was more of a mindful-awareness exercise. He reminded me that this was like being in the gym, putting in the reps to build my emotional muscles. My instructions were to sit and recognize where these uncomfortable feelings were emanating from. As soon as I began to focus on what he had told me, all of the tightness and discomfort shot right into my jaw. It was like a vice grip tightening down. It became so intense I was unsure if I would be able to speak.
As I sat there feeling the discomfort in my jaw my therapist watched my behavior. I started moving my jaw around and opening my mouth wide in hopes of making the tightness dissipate. He quickly reminded me not to try to control the feeling or to try to make it go away. He repeated “just go into it. Allow yourself to feel what is going on in your body.”
After a few minutes of paying attention to my uncomfortable feelings they started to subside. My mind and body felt relaxed; I could think straight and talk about what had occurred. My jaw no longer felt like I was in the Camel Clutch (below is a video depiction of how I felt, in case you don’t know what that is).
My therapist likened this exercise to having an itch and not scratching it. I’m a guy with a lot of proverbial itches to scratch and he knows that, so the analogy fit well. If you just allow the feeling to pass the itch will eventually go away. You do not have to scratch it. The itch may be extremely uncomfortable, but it can’t hurt you and won’t kill you.
This was an invaluable experiment for me. It was a very simple but effect exercise showing me I can handle the discomfort of my thoughts and feelings if I simply accept them for what they are and allow myself time to process them. The same “muscles” I used in his office I can apply to the rest of my life. If for some reason the feelings start to overwhelm me I can change the channel mentally and focus on something else. I don’t have to use exogenous sources to numb my feelings and stuff them down inside of me. Which I did all to often in the past.