I woke up feeling a bit beat up a few weeks ago mentally and physically. I was awake off and on most of the night feeling fear, anxiety, and just having nasty dreams. Truth be told, I had made a stop the night before at Dunkin’ Donuts for my sugar fix. This is common. I had been feeling a bit overwhelmed with all that is going on: a university keynote talk coming up, coaching cross country season starting, and 50k and 50-mile races I’ve signed up for. Turning to sugar as a way to numb out any anxiety is as familiar as breathing to me. The only difference is that I actually need air and it’s good for my health.
I remember just needing my sugar fix. A bit of a reprieve. I know it usually has me wake up feeling even more anxious about what’s coming up in my life. But I tell myself what I believe at the time to be some solid truth: I actually helped myself last night when I nonchalantly strolled into DD’s and grabbed two of my favorite donuts. I knew I’d feel crappy today, and I’d have to work through it, but I did it anyway. I can see it now. The woman behind the counter looking at me, hands folded up to her chest, “But sir, won’t that cause you even greater stomachache and fear in the morning!?”
“I can handle it! It’s building my emotional resilience!”
So, here’s the thing…
It’s true. If I want to be vulnerable, emotionally and mentally all in, then I have to allow myself to be available. I have to show up and be present for myself and others. This means feel all my emotions: true joy, love, excitement, pride, and confidence, as well as anger, frustration, fear, sadness, and uncertainty too. What is also true is that last night I used sugar to numb my feelings, and when you numb or disconnect to protect yourself from feeling difficult emotions, then you numb across the board. This means you might not feel fear or anxiety, but you won’t feel joy, happiness, and excitement either. So, this is where my faulty “ego induced” heroism argument comes in: “I shouldn’t avoid Dunkin’ Donuts! I should embrace my emotionally numbing, sugar-loaded donuts! They’ll create more resilience in me the next day when I have to feel those uncomfortable feelings from my sugar hangover! It’s for my own good really…”
So now here’s the other thing. That’s crap.
What I said above is like saying you’re going to eat crappy fattening food tonight, so you actually lose more weight when you start your diet tomorrow. Smells of something right? Fear can be justified. Fear can help you succeed if it elicits action in you. Fear can also freeze you up and stop you from doing things you KNOW you need and want to do. Fear can even have you take short-term action for temporary relief (I call these ‘microwave emotions’ and they are sold at my local Dunkin’ Donuts 🍩).
Now you may feel a temporary break, but those emotions usually come back stronger (basically meaning it’s not good for you). You can justify the momentary “numbing” that your microwave actions provide you, or at least give it a shot, by saying you want more fear, so you can practice dealing with it. But the fact remains, most of us have a problem dealing with the fear we already have, or WE WOULDN’T BE LOOKING TO NUMB OUR FEAR IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!
If you want to train yourself to deal with your uncomfortable emotions, don’t avoid them when you are truly living your life. Don’t gobble donuts, chew tobacco, eat candy, verbally beat someone down, or avoid situations that could lead you to succeed in anything you want to do even if it promises to be uncomfortable. Use your tools to bring yourself back to your emotional center after the uncomfortable emotions. This is practicing emotional resilience.
There are a HOST of things I have fear and anxiety around (races, talks, coaching, parenting, relationships, training, traffic in New York City, etc.) and these things require me to take action. Sometimes those actions may just be a catalyst for fear, and I can work through it quickly. Other times, I may have fear with me for the whole ride. I have tools that I practice day in and day out; mental-emotional tools that have become habit. How much I practice them, develop them, and cultivate them will determine whether or not I can “weather” walking by a Dunkin Donuts side by side with my desire or not. And in those moments when I can’t? How quickly I pick myself up (mentally and emotionally), stave off self-judgement, and get back to practicing, centering and moving forward, will determine my emotional resilience, not eating a dozen Boston cremes. Still sounds really good though…