So, you’ve been seeing someone for a few weeks and you notice that your new squeeze is behaving differently. You’re getting fewer texts; maybe plans are more vague. Naturally, you begin to get anxious. You worry about whether they are still interested in you, or if they just need space. When you’re in this uncomfortable situation, what do you do about it?
Although it may seem intuitive to talk about this, I’d caution you to think before you act. Bringing something up this early can send a message to your potential mate that you’re anxious about your attachment and might be a high-maintenance person who can’t handle having space in a relationship.
Your plan B might be to comb through the person’s social media profiles and check for signs of another person in their life. If any evidence is found, you then spend hours moping about the discovery. (Don’t.)
The downfall of both of these strategies is that they stem from an inability to deal with uncomfortable feelings. The uncertainty and ambiguity of not knowing where you stand are difficult to handle, and you might think you don’t have the capacity to sit back and see what happens next. But you do.
So, here are five tips to help you tolerate discomfort rather than being ruled by it:
1. Acknowledge that it sucks.
Like most people, you may believe yourself to be better equipped to handle ambiguity in a relationship than you truly are. You may think of yourself as someone who is cool with just hanging out and doesn’t need a relationship defined, but actually, you can easily fall into a tailspin when patterns of interaction change. Knowing this about yourself is half the battle.
2. Take care of your feelings.
Embrace the not knowing, the lack of control. Think of it as something you want to make space for rather than push away. When you notice pangs of discomfort, observe where you feel them in your body as well as the uncomfortable emotions that you may experience and the challenging thoughts that arise in your mind. Allow them to wax and wane. Observe your process. Then actively take note of the times when your discomfort decreases and invite your nervous system to register that. This practice of mindfulness will enhance your ability to manage any challenging situation.
3. Distract yourself.
Sometimes, you just feel too overwhelmed by your discomfort and there doesn’t seem to be any respite. Often, engaging in a positive, rejuvenating, or nurturing activity can get you through a hard moment (like when you’re trying so hard not to text someone or feeling a moment of intense self-doubt). Doing any form of exercise, something creative, or something grounding can be a great distraction and allow you to alter your emotional state in a positive way.
4. Seek out support.
You don’t have to manage this alone. Most people find it helpful to reach out to a supportive friend or professional during emotionally trying times. Just talking can help decrease your discomfort and, thereby, the intensity of the urges to make poor decisions.
5. Don’t trust your rationalizations.
As you try to tolerate your feelings, you will notice the voice inside your head trying to persuade you to abandon your efforts and pursue a less optimal but more comfortable plan. Be skeptical of this, as you can easily convince yourself that that voice is the voice of reason. Check your logic with an objective person before taking action.
Remember, like most growth experiences, learning how to tolerate emotional discomfort becomes easier the more you practice. As you develop a greater ability to manage your emotions, you will notice yourself becoming more resourceful during the difficult moments in your relationships. And with that resiliency, you will become different in the world in general — more open to life.