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How ‘Urge Surfing’ Can Help If You Struggle With Avoidance and Anxiety

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There was a time, B.T. (before therapy), when I was living in a constant state of anguish, even when it didn’t look obvious to others, but I don’t feel that way anymore even through the most difficult of days. That’s the beauty of effective therapy. I’ve been careful to remind myself that I feel a sense of peace and calm much more often than I feel pain these days.

The feeling is temporary. 

I am capable of accepting that pain is a reality we all have to face as humans. The difference is that I know now, pain doesn’t last forever. I know that whatever persistent anxious thought I have or whatever emotion I feel will not last forever. Black-and-white thinking can be almost debilitating in the sense that you convince yourself the way you feel or the way you perceive something is absolute. You know with every fiber of your being that the way you feel is unchanging, even when the reality is that nothing lasts forever.

I think the most important internal shift I’ve experienced since going through therapy is being able to understand that life continues, feelings and thoughts do not last forever, and I have the ability to change the way I feel.

I can stand this.

I struggle with avoidance. My first instinct is always to run away from the threat. This happens with important tasks I need to finish, avoiding painful emotions or confrontation, and it happens even with the impulse to cancel on a social gathering with friends.

My therapist suggested that I write “I can stand this,” on a piece of paper and put it somewhere visible. When I read these four words, I am reminded to ride out or “surf the urge” instead of giving in to the impulse to avoid. The truth is, I can stand feeling uncomfortable. The feeling will pass. In fact, a typical urge lasts about 20 to 30 minutes before it passes. The trick is to not give into the urge. By giving in to an urge, you condition your mind to think that acting on your urge is the way to meet your needs. For example, if you struggle with drinking and your urge is to have a drink whenever a stressful situation comes up, by doing so you are reinforcing the idea that you need alcohol to cope with your emotions.

In reality, you cannot grow without discomfort, and you can stand it. That’s the truth for every one of us, and for some it’s a more difficult realization to make than for others. We all need to come to this realization in our own time, and when we do, that’s when we begin to heal.

Photo by Xavier Mouton Photographie on Unsplash

Originally published: February 25, 2021
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