Pain - both physical and emotional - is part of the human experience, but it's also a part that most of us don't like. However, in order to truly live fulfilled lives, we need to be able to accept it. This is especially true for chronic illness warriors.
In this episode we talk about:
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The Kind Hand
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Why the heck should we accept anything painful in our lives? Why would I want to accept my chronic pain, or my other symptoms, or my anxiety or sadness or grief or any of it? If this sounds like you know that you are not alone, none of us want any of these feelings or sensations. However, they are part of life. So today we're going to talk about how to go about accepting them, not liking them, just accepting them, so that we can improve our well being. So let's get started on this week's episode of chronically living. I'm Kelsey Harris, chronic illness warrior and psychotherapist on chronically living and how to make the most of it, we're providing tangible ways to improve the well being of spoonies. So get ready to make the most out of your life even with that pesky chronic illness. I know that some people want to run for the hills when they hear the word acceptance. But hear me out on this one. Okay, before you start making any decisions. First, what do we mean by acceptance? Well, let's put it this way. I suppose I could give you a choice. Option A, you never have to have this painful feeling or sensation again. But you lose all capacity to love and to care. You care about nothing, and no one. Nothing matters. No one matters. Life becomes meaningless, because you don't care about anything whatsoever. There's option B, you get to love and care. People matter to you. Life matters. You care about what you do and what happens. You care about your family and friends. You get to build loving relationships, life becomes meaningful. And then when there's a gap between what you want and what you've got painful feelings and sensations like this one will show up. So which option do you choose? I got this little scenario from ACT clinician Russ Harris, who I've talked about on the show before, and he adopted it from a workshop by Kelly Wilson. This all comes down to the fact that emotions, all of our emotions, including anxiety, sadness, grief, anger, frustration, happiness, joy, excitement, and so on. They are normal. And guess what physical pain that's also normal. This is all part of being human and experiencing what it's like to be human. And here's another way we can look at it. Suppose you love to mountain climb, something you're absolutely passionate about. And one day you set out to climb this mountain that you've heard all these really amazing things about. However, as you approach the mountain, you see that a swamp one's all the way around it. He surprised this information was not told to you at all. But now, the only way for you to climb the mountain is to wade through the swamp. So that's what you do. You wade through it, you Don't wallow in it, you wade through it, because climbing the mountain is important to you. Before we go any further, I'm just gonna let you guys know, like, as I'm recording this episode, I just moved to a new city to moving is stressful. We know that this was a really easy move, and it was still stressful. I'm starting counseling practices, actually, they're integrated health clinics. So I'm going to be the counselor at two different clinics. But I don't have any clients yet as I'm recording this. So that's a bit stressful. It's like oh, just moving to this new apartment and I don't know how I'm gonna afford it. I'm sure the clients will come I'm not actually too worried. But you know, these thoughts crossed my mind. And of course I then where I moved to I was in a drier climate and now I'm in a wetter climate and the barometric pressure has totally messed up my symptoms. So now I have like, had flares. And I have swelling it like on the tops of my feet and weird places. So this is just not a fun time. So I'm definitely having a flare. And it's just, you know, like, it's one of those times in life where What are my choices right now? And I think this is really good timing for me to record this episode. And I had planned to record this episode, before I even thought oh, hey, I'm probably gonna have a flare because of this move. Oh my gosh, I wish I don't know that that would have helped me. So go back to the defusion episode. But this acceptance is really important for me right now because I would not be able to record this episode. If I didn't practice what I'm going to talk to you guys about today. Okay, so here's the problem most of us have with acceptance when we're young and by young me like like children are pretty small. It's really common in society for us to hear things like Don't cry, or hey, look on the bright side, turn that frown upside down. or big boys don't cry, or don't worry, get over it. Yeah, on and on. But what does this tell children, it tells them that we can have 100% control of our feelings all day. And this is a big end, that our feelings aren't good things that we're supposed to have, unless it's happiness, that's the only good feeling. So I just want you to think about whether this was your experience growing up. And I'm going to guess the most of you are nodding your heads because this is a very, very normal experience. And what happens is, we end up really struggling with our difficult feelings. Now we've been quote, unquote, programmed this way. And it can take a really long time for this programming to disappear. So we decide to have good feelings, that's quote, unquote, good feelings. And then there's also that, quote, unquote, bad feelings. And oh yeah, the physical pain thing that's actually been biologically wired to help us and give us important information, just like our good and bad feelings. But of course, that physical pain, that's just a battle. So here's where I would just suggest therapy is the route to go and see a counselor, psychotherapist, wherever they're called in your region. And, and, you know, that's definitely something I've said in the past, you can even do the whole self help section at the bookstore or library. So that's all a good place to start. But I'm gonna digress, because this is not me recommending you go find a counselor. This is about learning to accept our emotions, and feelings, sensations. So these emotions, and this pain, yes, even this chronic pain doesn't have to be bad. And by that I am in no way saying that this is good, or it feels good or that you have to like it. Because liking and accepting are actually really different things. And the very unrelated things, we can learn to accept these things, all the while not liking them. I really don't like being in pain, like I totally honest guys, really not fun. But instead of that being my experience, and therefore resisting pain, you know, by distracting myself, or avoiding or stress eating, or whatever other things I'm doing that doesn't go along with my values at all, I have learned to accept it. And this is how I'm getting through this fire. But before we go into some of the ways that we can do this, I want to talk a bit more about the success. So one thing that often comes up from people is that everything we think, and feel controls what we do, and therefore values based living is literally impossible. So here's the thing, our thoughts and feelings can influence our actions, for sure, absolutely, they can influence but they don't have to control them. So I want you to think about it this way. If our thoughts and feelings actually controlled all of our behavior, every time we thought or said something mean or terrible, or every time we felt angry or resentful. And we truly did the things that we thought and acted on those feelings, we'd probably be in prison hospital, maybe wouldn't be alive. The truth is, we often have hundreds, even thousands of thoughts that we n ver act on. We made some choices not to run away or punch someon or quit her job because we h d a bad day, if you're able to So if you're not drivin or something like that, you ca do this little activity with m , I want to try this out So silently repeat to yoursel . I can't lift my arm. Say it ver and over and really believe it. Now continue saying it but the same time lift your arm. I'm going to guess that you ere able to lift your arms. Un ess there's you have some kin of disability where you actu lly can't. But most of you, I'm assuming can probably ave lifted your arms even w ile saying I can't lift my ar . A lot of you probably had a mo ent of hesitation though, bec use you may have momenta ily believed that you could 't. Well, the same thing works for emotions. We may think we c n't get out of bed because we eel depressed. But truthfully we can still control our bodies and get out of it. So what does all that have to do with accepta ce? Well, if we can accept her thoughts as just being thou hts and as a normal part of b ing human, and if we can accept her feelings, both emotional and physical, is part of b ing human. And just acknowledge all this is there for being tr ing to be helpful to us. We are ore likely to live this values b sed life. What do you mean? t's also ultimately the goal for most of us, right? That's hat we want to be able to do. o I can talk about acceptance all day long. And I won't, becau e I don't want this to be like 10 hour episode. But there a e a few more components of it th t I thought would be w rth mentioning. So first is the dea of urge surfing or emo ion surfing. And it ties really nto what we just talked about. S we think we have to take hat drink, or eat the ice crea or lie in bed and cry. Because our urges and emotions are str ng, and they're telling us t do this stuff. But the ame principle applies here, we ave the choice to act on the urg or not act on it. So how d we serve these them? And ye , I actually picture myself n a surfboard, which I have bee on is very fun, very hard So actually the perfect analogy So first, we just nee to acknowledge that the urg is there. So I'm having the urg to do X, having the urge to eat ice cream, having the urge to tay in bed, then we wan to reconnect with our values, ill acting on your urge help yo be the person you want to be ive the life you want to live If you say no, then you're goin to so first again, observe hat urge Where where is it in our body and acknowledge that u ge, I'm having the urge of x. And you're going to breathe into the urge, just make a little bi of space for it to be there. And this is the fun part, yo 're gonna watch it rise, it's g nna start off slow, and it's g ing to get a little more inte se, and it's going to crest t's going to get to the most int nse part. And then it's goin to fall. It's not going to b as intense anymore. And yo 're going to do this w ile remembering that even when the urge is the most intense, yo 're actually bigger than it is So this requires a ton of pract ce. And I do have a video for his on my YouTube channel, w ich I'll link in the show notes So if you guys want to check ut, like how to do it's the meditative version of how t do this, but it's essentially ust this. So you can defini ely check that out if you wan to practice. So if you find you have a lot of urges, or our emotions are really, re lly strong and they're, they're, you know, quote unquote, control ing you. It's a good thin to practice. So the se ond component of acceptance I ant to talk about is elf compassion. Now I've do e a whole episode on self compas ion in the past which you can al ays go and check out. But I rece tly attended a conference where Dr. Kristin Neff was the key ote speaker, and Kristin Neff is the leading researcher in the w rld on self compassion, elf compassion, can help us ith self acceptance. Right? It's how it ties into accepta And, you know, this doesn't mean that we don't want to change our behaviors, it. What it means is that we are engaging in two things, nurturing self compassion. And this is where we take care of ourselves when we're very gentle, and fierce self compassion. This is when we're protecting ourselves. And this is not gentle. This is the other side. This is a flipside of self compassion that we often don't talk about. In a recent study, self compassion was actually more effective than traditional CBT in improving the quality of lives and well being in people with chronic pain. So it actually worked as a way to decrease pain and improve well being. Well, that was really interesting. So it'll be interesting to see if more studies coming from that as well. You know, what, from what I've seen in clients, and family and friends, as well as my past self is that most of us do not engage in self compassion. It's statistically 75% of people don't, don't engage in self compassion. And this is mostly because people think it's selfish, right? Because we're taught to be compassionate to others when we're children. Just go back to the childhood teachings. We're taught to be about passionate to others, but we're not really taught to be compassionate to ourselves. However, the research shows that self compassion actually leads to increase compassion for others. So if you're not actively practicing self compassion, I hate to say it but you're probably actually not that compassionate to other people in your life either. You may think you are but not to the level you could be. So I'm going to link and meditation called the kind hand meditation in the shownotes. For anybody who wants to practice some self compassion, there are tons of self compassion, meditations and different practices. You know, if you don't like meditation, there's other practices out there. You know, Dr. Kristin Neff's website is a great place to look as well. But I do recommend trying to practice some self compassion if you're not already. Okay, so after the break, I'm going to give you a technique so that you can practice some acceptance on your own. Hey, warriors, what if it was possible to get local fresh groceries delivered right to your front door? You could take a deep sea yoga with all that free time. Well, Instacart gives you unlimited grocery delivery for one low monthly fee. This is definitely better than paying for delivery on all those other apps. Forget that one ingredient you needed to make that super healthy smoothie Instacart can deliver to your front door in as little as an hour. You can shop multiple stores getting all your favorites on a single order Instacart even highlights deals so that you can save money. Get all the products you love hand selected by shoppers based on your preferences. They'll pick the freshest produce, and they'll keep your egg safe to find everything you usually buy and get smart suggestions on new items. To get free delivery on your first order over $10 Follow the link in the show notes to let Instacart know that we sent you and help to help support the show. With Instacart, you'll never step foot in the grocery store again. If you listen to the episode on creating distance between yourself and your thoughts, you'll know that I mentioned that there are hundreds of techniques we could use to do that. And really, acceptance is no different in that regards, we can drop anchor. And we've done that on the show before we can talk about pain as your ally or teacher, which I've blogged about before, back in the summer. So you can always check that out on the chronically living blog. We can do emotion surfing, mindful naming. I've gone through some metaphors on the show before I believe such as the struggle switching in quicksand, I can't remember exactly which ones or which episodes they were in, to be honest. But I'm going to review the struggle switch metaphor for anyone who missed missed the episode if I did talk about it in the past. So after I do that, I'm going to give you one of my favorite techniques that I use on myself all the time, and also have had great client feedback on. So the struggle switch. Imagine that in your brain, you have a switch in the on direction, you struggle. And in the off direction you don't. And every time you have a difficult emotion or painful sensation, your struggle switch flips on. When it's on, we're constantly tried to distract or avoid or press or do all the things that bring us immediate relief, but often take us away from our values and don't bring long term relief. When the struggle switches on we often end up having anxiety or sadness or anger or whatever emotion and then we start to get anxiety about our anxiety, or anger or anger. So on what if I feel anxious forever. And then see anxiety about anxiety while that can turn into sadness, and then anger and then head right back to anxiety. So we're basically caught in this vicious cycle. And this is exhausting, isn't it? But what if we could turn the struggle switch off then when anxiety or whatever other emotion shows up. Instead of getting a lot of sorts of butter, we're able to just let the emotion be there until it passes. That sounds kind of nice. Sounds a lot easier. By the way, this is the same thing I know talking about emotions. But same thing for physical pain. I'm guessing right now you're wanting me to just give you an idea for how to turn the struggle switch off. Again, if you're in the position to be able to do so safely. Let's do an acceptance practice that I refer to as observe, breathe, expand, allow. So first, I want you to just think about why accepting your emotions or pain is important to you. What will this help you with? How will it help you live your values let's make sure we're sitting up in a comfortable position straight back, feet on the fourth possible. Close your eyes if it is safe for you to do so. Otherwise, just find a spot to fix your gaze on. Just take a moment to notice the feeling of your feet on the floor. The position of your back notice what you can see and hear and smell and taste. Be curious about your experience as if you were a small child. Notice what you're thinking and feeling and doing. Remember that there's this part of you that notices everything. And that's the part of you that we're using here today. Your mind might start to chatter might try to hook you and if it does just use one of your unhooking skills from that episode on creating distance. So acknowledge your thoughts and then hook and refocus. Notice where your feeling starts and stops imagine drawing an outline around it. What shape is it? Is it 2D or 3D? Is it on the surface of your body or inside you? Where is it the most intense and the least intense serve it with curiosity is it light or heavy? Moving or still? Is it hot or cold? Notice that is likely not one sensation, but sensations within sensations give this feeling a name. Say to yourself, I'm noticing the feeling of x as you notice it breathe into it. Imagine your breath flowing directly into this feeling and all around this feeling. Keep breathing into it and around it. Start to notice how the space is opening up around this feeling. Make space for it. Expand around it. Just breathe in. Open up and expand around this feeling. Notice try to allow the feeling to be there. You don't have to like it. Just allow it observe it, breathe into it, expand around it and allow it to be there you may feel an urge to fight against the feeling. So acknowledge the urge without acting on it. Just observe the sensation we're not trying to get rid of it. It may change on its own and if it does, that's okay. And if it doesn't, that's okay imagine that the feeling is a physical object what's its shape? Is it a liquid or solid or gas? Is it moving or still? What color is it? Is it wet or dry? rougher smooth. Serving curiously as you breathe into it, make space for it. Remember, you don't have to like it. Just allow it to be there. Notice how much bigger you are than it is. This feeling is telling you something important. It's telling you that you're a normal human that there are things in life that are important to you. Now gently take one of your hands and place it on the part of your body that you feel the feeling the most. This is a kind hand a loving hand the warp flow from your hand into your body just to make more room for the feeling not to get rid of it. Just hold yourself gently life can be like a stage show. Now on the stage, we've got your thoughts and feelings and everything you can hear, see, taste, touch and smell. We've dim the lights on the stage with a spotlight on this particular feeling. So we're slowly going to bring up the lights while still acknowledging this feeling. Notice your arms and legs and head, the neck. Notice that you can control them. Maybe take a stretch. Open your eyes and notice what you can see. Notice what you can hear. Notice that this feeling is inside a body inside a room. And you've just done some important work. So the short version of the above is simply acknowledging and observing the feeling. So I noticed the feeling of x and it looks like Y and feels like Z. end your breath into the part f your body you feel it most, make some space around the feeli g and then just allow it to be there. And this probably sound silly, but I actually use this ll the time. And it works. And b it works, I don't mean that t always makes the feeling go aw y. It certainly does somet mes. But instead what it allow me to do is carry on with the i portant parts of my game, which is literally the whole point of acceptance, right. I'm going to link that full version that e did in the show notes as well, because I do have that on my Yo Tube channel. So hopefully this ll made sense to you guys. If no feel free to reach out to me on Instagram is probably the best lace to DM me. I'm going to pu a few more acceptance pract ces on Patreon this week for s bscribers so the link is going to be in the show notes for t ose of you who would like to su port the show and get that extra content. So before we wrap up, l t's just do our refle tion. What did you notice about your thoughts and feelings durin this episode? And what about during the acceptance pract ce we did? What are you notic ng now about this notic ng? Thanks for tuning in. And a always, keep making the most f it. Special thanks to marre .e for the original music and Ch rity Williams for the or ginal armor