photo by Samuel Silitonga (pexels.com)
I can’t count the number of times people have told me they “can’t stand to be still”. They’re not talking about the discomfort that comes from suffering with diagnosed hyperactivity such as with ADHD. These are people who follow their statement with an explanation that to spend time in stillness means being flooded with intolerable anxiety. They fill their environment and their minds with whatever busyness prevents the overwhelming tension that rises from the quiet. Many of them also admit the busyness doesn’t do away with the internal angst. That’s when they turn to numbing agents such as food, alcohol, or other substances. Even behaviors such as indiscriminate sex or gambling gives them a sense that they can avoid the pain of thoughts and emotions they’d rather avoid. Life is spent running away. Running away from what hurts the most. But, that form of self-abandonment often leaves them in more pain.
Somehow facing difficult thoughts and feelings with a sojourner nearby makes it feel safer.
Unfortunately, the thoughts and feelings they try to dismiss first need a space of their own – a time to be processed, a chance to be considered and resolved. Until then, the thoughts creep in as uninvited memories. Unaddressed, the painful emotions take up camp inside the person’s body causing physical conditions such as weakened immunity, inflammation, and muscle tension. The mental suffering we typically call clinical depression or anxiety is really more of a burden than the stillness might be. A vicious cycle ensues. Think, feel, avoid, suffer. Think, feel, avoid, suffer.
When these persons find their way into my office, they are fully prepared to ask that I help them resolve the pain without actually addressing it. Deep down inside, however, they know I’m going to nudge them toward those quiet moments, where in the stillness they find strength to face the unfaceable. At first, they resist my recommendation to try meditative practice, mindfulness exercises, or clearing time each day to be with those thoughts and feelings (such as in journaling). That’s okay. I’ve done my share of avoidance in my life. So, I gladly offer the therapy session itself to make their introduction to ways of spending quality time with themselves. Somehow facing difficult thoughts and feelings with a sojourner nearby makes it feel safer.
Without the barriers of unresolved griefs, pent up angers, and overwhelming sorrows, we can begin to use our quiet moments of ‘nothing’ to gain the rest we need.
Once they reduce fear of these difficult moments, learning they can tolerate and even welcome them in as teachers of the soul, stillness becomes friend not foe. This is important especially now that science has discovered doing “nothing” for periods of time has both physical and mental health benefits. Our bodies and minds need reset moments to reach full capacity and to heal from the strains and traumas of our lives. Stillness is where we can remember who we are, who we were supposed to be before the players of our lives assigned to us roles for which we didn’t audition. In the quiet, we can give our inner selves a voice to determine our truths. Without the barriers of unresolved griefs, pent up angers, and overwhelming sorrows, we can begin to use our quiet moments of ‘nothing’ to gain the rest we need.
I encourage you to explore your relationship with stillness. See what doing nothing offers you. Learn that nothing moments can be some of the best moments of your life.
If you find yourself struggling with hopelessness, please reach out for support.
National Suicide Hotline
This information is not intended to replace the medical advice or treatment of a trained professional. If you find yourself struggling to manage challenging thoughts or moods, contact your primary care physician or seek the support of a licensed mental health professional.