Communicating with Choice in the Face of Uncomfortable Feelings

A girl crosses a street at the sidewalk, a skill which seems uncomfortable at first, but like communicating with choice, we can learn it with practice

What’s your communication like these days? Are you quick to blame or judge? Reactive?  Stuck in an old pattern? Do you remember you have choice?

When we’re in a crisis, or when there’s a lot of uncertainty (or when both are true!), uncomfortable feelings usually arise. In the face of these uncomfortable feelings, our strategies (avoidance, indulgence, denial, etc.) are triggered.  One of the places these strategies show up is in how we communicate, whether in our relationships or in our internal dialogue.  With practice, we can learn to consciously choose how we relate to our difficult feelings and how we communicate when we are faced with them. 

At first, when we were just hearing about the possibility of the shelter in place and stay-at-home orders, I felt a current of super-fast energy flow throughout my body. I recognized the presence of feelings that are uncomfortable for me - anxiety and overwhelm.  It happened quickly. I found myself being very tuned into my bodily sensations and then, the words of my beloved teacher appeared in my internal dialogue: “We don’t need another overwhelmed human being.” I repeated these words several times in my heart.

For decades, my pattern has been one of freezing in the face of overwhelm.  The first memory I have of this pattern is when I was about 4 years old. My dad took me to run an errand with him. On our return, he parked across the street from our house. I had a baguette on my lap that was longer than I was.  I opened the car door and ran towards my house with the baguette in my hands; I couldn’t wait to show my mom this enormous baguette! You can imagine what happened. Yes, a car was coming and it was going to hit me. My dad yelled my name. I heard him, saw the car getting close, and my legs froze. I simply couldn’t move.

Fortunately, my dad ran really fast, scooped me up, and brought me to safety. As soon as my feet touched the sidewalk, my dad shook me by the shoulders yelling “Never do that again, never do that again!”

It didn’t work.

Many a time in my life I froze when I felt overwhelmed.  It’s taken years of self-exploration and self-cultivation to work with this pattern.  To this day, when I feel overwhelmed, my tendency is still to freeze, and my ability to communicate freezes, too.  This is what it’s like: my body is completely still; my mind is racing with all kinds of fear-based thoughts and I am completely unavailable to those around me. Since I want and need to be available to those around me, it was crucial for me to learn to be able to stay dynamically present with the feeling of overwhelm. 

 With all the work I’ve done and continue to do with myself and others, I see clearly what neuroscientists tell us. Our habits, strategies, and patterns persist because they’ve made strong and thick neural connections in our brain. However, we all have neuro-plasticity and can make changes in behavior and communication. When we develop equally strong observation skills, we can meet our habits with awareness and choice. With awareness and choice, we become available to respond to the situation and to support those who need our help.

When the global pandemic hit, I met the overwhelm differently.  I remembered I had choice. My awareness of choice gave way to an internal dialogue that was quite clear and filled with questions. “What’s most important now? Who do I need to talk to? How can I help? Who needs my support? What practices do I need to put in place to be available to those I love?”

The most beautiful thing I witnessed is that several of my clients shared in our sessions that they, too, remembered they had a choice.  And awareness of choice led them to communicate consciously and take skillful action.

Take one of my clients, we’ll call her Prema. Prema tends to feel very lonely when she is scared; a feeling she’s uncomfortable with. In the past she would isolate herself and then blame others for abandoning her. This time, she remembered she had a choice. She wrote a list of all the people she loves and makes it a point to call someone every day to check in on them and share authentically how she is. This different way of behaving and communicating is helping her feel connected and relaxed.

Another client, let’s call him Ryan, tends to engage in radio silence when there’s uncertainty in his life, a feeling that is uncomfortable for him. We’ve been able to understand that when uncertainty is present, he focuses on work and drops out the face of the earth as he usually describes it. He recognized this was about to happen because of all the uncertainty he was experiencing.  He then chose to do something different. Instead of radio silence, he decided to communicate with the people he loves and ask them how he could help them. He’s initiated several Zoom calls, wrote gratitude cards, and is taking care of a family member who’s sick. His choice allows him to feel a sense of stability and connection to his own capacity to be with life during these uncertain times.

 A third client realized when she and her husband face insecurity – a difficult feeling for her - they tend to get very irritable with one another and fight a lot. Her tendency is to get angry and criticize him. As soon as she noticed the pattern arising, she made a plan to engage in calming practices first thing in the morning and then express gratitude and appreciation to her husband. She’s shared how much richness and connection these choices added to their life. She even said that when her husband is irritable, she lets it go because she knows he’s worried about losing his job. As she said in our most recent session: “We’re not fighting. We’re living in choice.”

You can do it, too! In these challenging times, it’s essential that you approach your difficult feelings with awareness and choice. This will lead you to communicate with clarity, compassion, and confidence. 

Here’s a 5-step practice you can do to remember you have choice.


  1. Notice how it feels in your body when you feel overwhelmed, nervous, anxious, afraid, uncomfortable.

  2.  Ask yourself how you usually tend to communicate and behave when you have these feelings.

  3.  Are these behavioral and communication habits beneficial to you and people in your life? (This is a rhetorical question - and if it isn’t, let’s


  4.  Recognize and feel in your body that you are an adult and you have the choice to face difficult feelings.  And you can choose to communicate and behave skillfully, with awareness.

  5.  What are some options you can choose now to respond to the situation?  How can you communicate in a way that is loving and skillful?


I’d love to hear from you. What is it like for you to remember you have choice and communicate with choice?

 In this moment of global crisis, may you remember your capacity to choose awareness, clarity, and compassion in your communication with yourself and others.

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