Sometimes, it’s OK to not be OK…

The Helpful Clinic Impactathon took place on January 18. This volunteer event was held to spotlight the cost of not talking about feelings, the benefit of talking about feelings and how to talk about feelings. It was a powerhouse of a day and it was staggering how much we actually got done in just 5 hours. Here’s a link to the coverage in the Cambridge Independent newspaper.

One of the conversations at the Impactathon was about the fact that it’s OK to not be OK sometimes and how relentless the pressure to ‘be happy’ is.

This is something that we see all the time in consultations and workshops and with that added momentum from the Impactathon we decided to give this powerful concept its own blog post.

We’re under constant pressure to be happy

We live in a society that highly values happiness. It is seen as healthy, desirable and something everyone should chase. But the problem with this is that it makes us feel uncomfortable, almost inadequate, whenever we aren’t happy.

The problem is that the pressure to be happy, healthy and positive all the time can actually be depleting and gradually grind us down over time. And while we encourage aspiring to having great relationships with people, being able to enjoy your work or occupation and have a meaningful life, when the pressure to achieve that quality of life becomes the very thing that robs you of that quality of life, then it’s simply not helpful.

The bottom line is that when we’re not OK, it shouldn’t be viewed as some kind of character flaw or personality failure, but rather treated with the curiosity and respect it deserves. Feeling not OK is valuable information. If we don’t understand what’s giving rise to that ‘not OK’ feeling, we are unable to address the root cause and move through the experience constructively.

Numbing our feelings isn’t Helpful

So why do we get so hung up about not being OK? Well, for a start, it feels uncomfortable. It’s not nice when you’re struggling, right!? It’s not a feeling we desire to experience or actively seek. This discomfort of ‘not OK’ usually drives us to do everything we can to make the feeling go away.

This reaction stems from our reptilian brain, which you can find out more about in our ABC for Feelings blog post. Discomfort of any kind is seen as threatening and so we are wired to lash out, avoid or numb. This is due to how the Fight / Flight / Freeze stress and survival response is hardwired in the crocodile part of the brain.

For those who are more geared towards the Fight mechanism of the stress and survival response, the likely course of action is to lash out, picking fights with friends, family, colleagues or even strangers. Think road rage. This is where people continually find themselves in conflict or aggressive encounters even over the most trivial of things.

For many, struggling means engrossing yourself in work, binge watching TV or even distracting yourself by focusing on helping others. These displacement activities take your mind off not feeling OK and are one of the coping mechanisms used to avoid the original discomfort of struggling and feeling not OK.

Another common course of action is to numb the unhelpful feeling with things that make us, temporarily, feel better – medication, food, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. Some people report that it’s simply a gradual decline in energy and descent into lethargy as if their energy is on some kind of dimmer switch that’s being gradually turned down.

Whatever your default behaviour patterns when you’re acting from the crocodile part of your brain (also referred to as crocodiling), the end result is usually one that sees us crashing whether that’s physically, mentally, socially or even financially because what has happened is that you have not addressed the actual feeling, which has been alerting you to the fact that something isn’t right.

Feeling are information

A much more constructive and helpful approach to take when you’re not feeling OK is to get curious and embrace your inner Sherlock (instead of being critical). Start exploring the feelings you’re feeling. After all, all feelings, whether emotional, psychological or physical, are information, there to tell us that something’s not quite right somewhere and needs addressing.

An example we often use here at The Helpful Clinic is that of a dashboard warning light in a car. If the break fluid light came on while you were driving, would you ignore it? Would you disconnect the light bulb without checking the break fluid levels? Probably not, right? So why then ignore your own feelings when they show up to tell you something?

At a recent workshop, Kate opened up about a feeling guilty for shouting at her mum. By getting curious about it and a bit of detective work, we worked out that a couple of key factors had contributed to this.

Firstly, Kate’s mum knows how to press her buttons and that mum will keep on about something like a dog with a bone until Kate reacts by shouting, which then gives mum the satisfaction of ‘having been right all along’.  

Secondly, that Kate had not only been tired but also stressed and hungry on this last visit to mum, which also meant that she was a lot quicker to anger than she would usually have been.

Whether you are struggling with your thoughts or emotions or it’s more physical or even social, the crocodile part of your brain takes over. This means that being tired, hungry, stressed or even feeling too cold can tip us into that more primal behaviour (crocodiling).

As Kate got curious about the information her feelings were guiding her to, she realised that there was indeed something she could change straight away. Going forward, she decided that if she was feeling under par she would phone mum instead of visiting as it was easier for her to hold her ground and cool by phone than in person. This practical change could then help ease tensions and give her the headspace to develop further helpful strategies in terms of her dynamic with mum and some of the beliefs she had that were driving that dynamic.

Be curious, not critical

Whatever the feeling that you are struggling with, chances are that it’s more helpful to get curious about it than critical. Whether it’s stomach cramps triggered by food intolerances, brain fog due to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, sleep issues due to unhelpful eating habits or overwhelm due to attempting to do more in a day then there are hours for, feelings are valuable information, designed to spur us into taking appropriate constructive action.

Remember, it’s OK to not be OK. Start by giving yourself permission to not be OK. You may need to slow things down, have a duvet day or stay with the experience you’re having for a wee while. Then with curiosity as your guiding light start a mind map or a sketch of what is contributing to the feeling you are having and what it might be about. Be patient with yourself, it may take you a short while to understand the clues and make sense of your experience so that you know what action you need to take.

At the end of the day, if you don’t get curious about the clues associated with not feeling OK, you are likely to feel like you’re going around in circles, tripping over the same feelings over and over again like a roundabout where you can’t read the signs for the exit; unable to get off and unlikely to feel better in the near future.

Feel like you would like personal help to navigate your way forward and help you feel better? Book a chat with Thor to talk about how they can help you in 1:2:1 consultations that you can have either by Skype or phone, whatever method suits you best. Find out more about how we can help you feel better here

Want to learn about First Aid for Feelings and having your own First Aid Kit for Feelings? Click here to find out more In this one day workshop you learn:

  • How to help yourself feel better straight away
  • How to work with your brain and your body to respond better to challenges.
  • How to get curious about your feelings and why they show up
  • How to have more helpful self-talk

Till next time, go gently with yourself.

All the best, Thor