In this episode, I addressed a question that was asked of me by a loyal follower. They asked, “What do I do if the present moment totally sucks? Like, what if I have a migraine , nausea , chills , pain? Any suggestions ?!”
This is such a great question and one we probably have all asked ourselves or our therapist at some point.
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This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com. CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.
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This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 303.
Welcome back, everybody. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here with me. Thank you for listening. Thank you for supporting me. I know how valuable your time is, and I know there are so many people that you could spend your time with, especially out on the podcast field. So, I am so, so grateful to have you here with me. Really, really, really I am. I hope that you find these episodes incredibly helpful. My hope is to give you bite-size tools so that you can get on with your life and live your best life. I hope this podcast is everything that you wanted to learn.
This week’s episode, I am totally, totally amped for. The reason being is, it was actually a response to a previous podcast where we talked about being present. Somebody had written back because they subscribe to my newsletter. If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, please do so. I will leave a link in the show notes, or you can go over to CBTSchool.com and sign up there. They had responded and said, “But Kimberley, what do I do if the present moment totally sucks?” And they went on to say, “I have a migraine or nausea or chills or pains.” And they said, “What are your suggestions?” I figured, this is probably the question you all have for me. I come on, I share with you tools. And then you guys are probably always going to have a question and this is a really common one.
Today, I want to talk about what to do when the present moment totally sucks. Before we do that, let’s first do the “I did a hard thing” segment. This one is from Rachel and they said:
“My thoughts get the best of me. I recently started teaching and I needed to stay long after the students go home. And I decided it just needs to be a busy time to distract me. I use your book to help me with any meditations and I just let my thoughts come and go. It was scary the first time, but now I’m used to it.”
Thank you so much, Rachel. I’m so grateful my book can be of assistance. I think you’re doing some really, really hard work there. So, congratulations on that.
And then last of all, before we get into the bulk of the episode, let’s first share a review of the week and this is from Meldevs and they said:
“I am so thankful to have found this podcast! Kimberley is such a compassionate, warm, honest, and insightful person for those struggling with anxiety disorders as I do. I have learned more listening to her than I have in my years of therapy. The way that she presents each and every podcast episode so that I feel challenged and understood. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being there for people struggling with anxiety!”
Thank you, Meldevs. That is such a beautiful review, really. That brings me so much joy and I really, really appreciate all your reviews on the podcast, because it helps me to reach more and more people. Meldevs and Rachel, thank you so much for being a part of my community. Let’s get into the episode.
What do we do when the present moment totally sucks? Let’s break it down.
When we talk about being present, one of the biggest mistakes we make, and I talk with my patients about this all the time, is we assume that being present means everything feels great. I think we have in our mind that being present is when we are most mindful, when we are most at peace, when we’re most compassionate. And I’ll tell you honestly, that has not been my experience. Oh no.
Being present, the art of being present, the practice of being present in your most mindful sense has never meant being comfortable in my experience, especially as my experience with it as a clinician, especially as my experience of having my own mental illnesses and my own medical illnesses. No, it’s not that. Most of the time, when we need to be present are the times when things totally suck, when we’re in a great deal of distress. Because otherwise, if you’re not in distress, usually, you don’t have to be as present because often you naturally are.
So, let’s just remember that our brains, when we are uncomfortable, is wired to focus on that discomfort. That’s how we’ve survived all these years. And it’s going to focus on the pain because it is trying to send a message to you to get the pain to go away. But when we have something where the pain won’t go away, have it be migraine, like you said, nausea, chills, discomfort could be also anxiety or intrusive thoughts because we all know we can’t stop those. When we experience those, yes, naturally, you’re going to want to run away from it. But as a part of this team and as part of this community, you guys know and hopefully, I’ve taught you that running away from discomfort only makes it worse. Resisting the pain we feel and the suffering we feel only makes it worse and increases our suffering. So, what do we do? Friends, we settle in. I’ll give you a personal example of when I actually recently had COVID.
Some people bless your hearts. And also, I’m really still very mad at these people, but still, bless your hearts. I wish this was the case for everybody. But some people have very few symptoms when it comes to having COVID. I am not one of those people. When I have COVID and when I got COVID, I get bone pain. It is like the deepest pain in my bones. It goes right to the center of my bones and it is so painful. My daughter and my husband both had COVID as well. My daughter came in. And I, when I’m in this state where my bones hurt this bad, I’ve had it several times in my life. She said, “Mama, you’re tensing up. Your face is all squished.” I was holding my muscles tight. And thank goodness, because I was in so much pain that I actually needed somebody outside of my body to tell me this was happening because I just was so entrenched in the pain I was feeling that she said, “Mama, you’re all tense.” Thank goodness I’ve taught her that tensing up around pain actually makes it worse. Her and I have had many conversations around this.
And so, I naturally was able to go, “Oh, okay, Kimberley, let’s pause.” Number one, validate. “Hun, you’re in a lot of pain.” You could even say, “This present moment totally sucks.” Or you could say, “Wow, I’m observing that you’re really uncomfortable right now.” So, if that’s you and your present moment really sucks, I’m strongly encouraging you first validating. The alternative would be you go, “It shouldn’t be this way.” But the truth is, it is this way. So, don’t go down the road of fighting it.
The second piece is then check for where you are resisting the present moment and how much it sucks. Now I’m going to keep saying the word “sucks” really passionately because it does sometimes really suck, like really suck. And so, when it really sucks, it’s almost like the more it sucks, the more we have to soften around how much it sucks. If you have a migraine, the worse it is, the more you need to soften your brow and close your eyes and soften the environment that you’re in. The more you feel nausea, the more you feel your stomach nodding up. And some of you may feel that just by me mentioning it. The more you feel that, the more you need to soften around that physically by relaxing your muscles and softening your thoughts around it. Meaning now is not the time to beat yourself up for it. Now is not the time. Some people are going, “Yeah, but it’s my fault. I have nausea because I drank too much,” or “I ate too much,” or whatever it may be. Now is not the time to go through that. Now, the facts are, the present moment totally sucks. And so, let’s be gentle around it because our resistance makes it worse.
If you were like me and you have the chills and you’ve got literal, like feels like every bone in your body is broken, now is not the time to fight that and tense your muscles. Now is the time to soften. If you’re having a full-blown panic attack, first acknowledge, “Okay, I’m noticing I’m having a panic attack.” And then soften around it physically and cognitively in your thoughts. Don’t resist it.
Now, that being said, let me bring a very important concept to the table. And this actually just came up this morning. So, as many of you know, I have my online business, which is CBTSchool.com, and then I also have a private practice where we see clients. Because I can’t see all the clients that come to me, I have 10 amazing therapists who work for me and who I have trained and who I supervise every single week. We have a meeting every Monday, and we talk about cases. One of my staff was telling me today that one of her patients took what she said literally, which actually is pretty common. She was explaining to her patients that when you have anxiety and panic or discomfort, you sit in the discomfort or sit with the discomfort, or be with the discomfort. And this patient and client took it literally, which is fair. We have to be really descriptive and give lots of steps and explanations. And so, while they were feeling this discomfort, they literally sat in a chair and just stared and suffered. So, if I’ve ever said, sit with your discomfort, please don’t take it literally.
And so, what I want to remember here and what I remind you of, I should say, is once we’ve acknowledged and we stop the resistance to it, we must then reengage in something we value. So, let’s use me as an example. I had COVID. I literally felt like every bone in my body was broken. That doesn’t mean I’m going to get up and go for a run. It doesn’t mean I’m going to get up and see patients because I’m actually in pain. I wasn’t able to. But what I can do is instead of putting my attention on how much it’s painful, I’m going to put my attention onto something else. And it could be as little or as minute as the sound of the leaves rustling outside, the sound of music, the, the smell of the cough medicine I had taken, the taste of the cough medicine I had taken, the touch of the blanket. So, you just get really in touch with that. And then you catch how your mind then keeps offering you thoughts that make you want to reengage back with the pain.
Now, again, I’ll give you another example. Most of you know, I have a chronic illness. I have postural orthostatic tachycardic syndrome. I am dizzy almost all the time. It’s under control now. I don’t faint nearly as much as I used to. But dizziness is actually a very normal part of my existence, particularly when I’m standing up. And so, my job is to allow it and then to catch when my brain starts to say, “It shouldn’t be this way. This isn’t fair. It’s not good. This is bad. It could be better. Your life could be better.” My brain offers me those thoughts and I choose not to entertain them.
Now, I’m not perfect at this, and this is something I’ve been practicing for a long time, so please be gentle with yourself. My job and your job, when the present moment totally sucks, is to be an observer to our brain. And of course, as I said, at the beginning, it’s going to present to us all the problems and why this shouldn’t be the problem. And you just say, “Thank you for showing up. I totally get what you’re saying, brain. Thank you for being there for me, but I’m going to keep directing my attention to whatever it is in front of me.”
If you have anxiety and you’re having panic, you’re having high levels of anxiety, I’m going to say to you, ask yourself the question, what can I do or what would I be doing if anxiety wasn’t here right now? And go do those things. Don’t just sit in the discomfort. Only go engage back with life. Do the most that you can with your life WHILE you have anxiety.
Now, let’s also address one other main issue. In no way am I saying to dump toxic positivity on yourself here. In no way am I saying things like, “Oh, you should be happy. The leaves are so beautiful.” Again, like I was saying to you, no, absolutely not. That is not what we’re talking about.
If you feel sad about this, if you feel down about it, if you feel a little discouraged or irritable, that’s okay. We can also be mindful and acknowledge, “Yeah, I’m feeling really frustrated with how I feel so terrible.” We’re not here when we’re mindful. We’re not here to say it shouldn’t be this way and just be happy about it. No, like I said to you, in my experience being present, my most mindful is actually when things totally suck. And I don’t try and change it that often. In fact, I just try to allow it, bring it in and then add other valuable things into my life.
Can it be positive? Absolutely, if you want it to be. But if the suffering you’re experiencing is depression or hopelessness or grief or panic, we don’t need to throw a bunch of positivity on there unless it’s really helpful to you. All I’m here trying to do is get you to not fight how painful it is because that usually makes it more painful. And also, we don’t want to thicken the pot of it by going, “You’re right. It does suck. It’s not fair,” and all those things. That can actually often-- we have research to show that that rumination actually makes our suffering worse.
I know I said that was the last thing, but I have one more important thing to say, which is, please, please practice nonjudgment. If you’re going to be mindful, you have to practice nonjudgment. You can’t have mindfulness without nonjudgment. I have a whole episode on that. The whole point here with nonjudgment is, when we say this moment totally sucks, it’s actually a judgment. And I don’t want to take that from you. I don’t want to take that from you. It’s okay. You’re allowed to acknowledge it. But we also want to catch that how sometimes when we’re judgmental, this is good and this is bad, we actually train our brains to send out more anxiety hormones when we have that experience the next time, especially when we tell ourselves it sucks and it shouldn’t be there. So, keep that in mind.
Anytime I’m going through something difficult, and this is very true of my work that I did around dizziness, with my POTS, is I had to take all the judgment out of it to reduce my suffering around my dizziness. Because the more I judged it, the more I felt completely hopeless and depressed about the situation. The more I felt like, oh, I just don’t have an answer, there is no answer.
Again, I didn’t say, “Wow, I love dizziness. It’s so positive and wonderful.” I just said, it’s a sensation. I’m going to be gentle. I’m going to acknowledge it and allow it and lean into it, but not give it too much attention. And it’s neither good nor bad. And that was a conscious, intentional decision. Again, be careful that it doesn’t become toxic in that you’re pushing too much positivity on yourself, but again, it’s a balance.
So, there it is. That is what I would encourage you to do when the present moment totally sucks. And as I said, the present moment, especially when you’re suffering, it will totally suck sometimes. But that doesn’t mean you’re going in the wrong direction. It doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way forever. There’s another piece to catch.
I am just in love with you guys. I really am. What an amazing, amazing community. Please, if you want to be part of my community, you can go over to Instagram @YourAnxietyToolkit. You can listen to this podcast and go right back to the beginning and listen to the beginning ones. You can go over to Facebook. We actually have a private Facebook group called CBT School Campus. You’re welcome to come and join us there. Thank you. Just love you, love you, love you.
Have a wonderful day and I’ll talk to you next week.