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Tuesday Tip: Can You Recognize, Not Resist, Suffering?


In this week’s Tuesday Well-Being Tip, support to bring insight to your emotions.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

One thing the human mind is really good at is taking a small situation and turning it into a major life crisis. We all know what this feels like. Some little thing goes wrong and we find ourselves completely consumed by it. The human mind has this curious tendency to transform pain into suffering.

Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself? Something small comes up, and instead of sitting with these emotions, or an unpleasant experience, you do everything possible to avoid it.

Or maybe it’s something big and you’ve done everything possible to not feel those same feelings again.

Scientists have studied a number of different strategies for working with difficult emotions, including simply trying to resist them. What the research shows is that trying to suppress or avoid unpleasant experiences often has the opposite effect. When we try to force our reactive or stressful thoughts to stop, we end up with even more unwelcome thoughts and emotional distress (Purdon, 1999). Trying to avoid our thoughts and emotions is one of the main barriers to managing emotions in a healthy way, and it puts us at risk for high levels of anxiety and depression.

Dr. Christy Wilson-Mendenhall, Associate Scientist, Center for Healthy Minds & Scientific Lead, Healthy Minds Program, Healthy Minds Innovations
For this week’s Tuesday Tip, let’s try and recognize, and not resist suffering.
  • Step 1: Think about the big challenges or minor frustrations you’re facing right now. (You can get in this mindset with this 10 minute seated meditation, Thoughts Don’t Define Us.)
  • Step 2: Identify where you may be resisting these challenges, or trying to avoid suffering. 

  • Step 3: Recognize this suffering and, if you’re feeling ready, begin to process and experience these emotions. (This does not mean that you go immediately to problem-solving mode, instead, just get curious about these emotions.) 

  • Step 4: Give yourself time, space, and compassion during this process.

What the research tells us is that instead of resisting discomfort, it’s better to learn to accept it and process it. If  you can accept these challenging situations and face them head on, you can save yourself weeks, months, or even years of suffering.

This is precisely where meditation can help. This practice isn’t going to make all the pain and discomfort of being human go away. 

But it can help you move on. And the first step is recognizing, not resisting.

Get more practices and tips by downloading the Healthy Minds Program App, freely available thanks to the generosity of our donors wherever you get your apps.

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