“How Mindfulness Helps us through the Hard Stuff” by Psychotherapist Megan Gunnell

We are inundated these days with tips on how mindfulness can enhance our quality of life and help us feel happier.  How staying in the moment reduces our stress because we’re not too caught up in the past or the future, we’re sweetly savoring the momentary now.  That’s all true!  And it works!  But what gets much less attention is how staying mindful to discomfort can help us through the struggle.  

We’re a culture of impatience.  We don’t like to wait.  We don’t like uncertainty.  We don’t like to be in a state of unknowns.  We hate delays.  We want to escape them.  And we use all sorts of not-so-good things to help us cope.  We numb with food, alcohol, drugs, sweets, social media, overspending, netflix and more!  Because we’ve created a culture of convenience and easy, instant gratification, we have a serious problem with being uncomfortable.  

The most resilient people are ones who don’t try desperately to escape moments of pain or suffering, ranging from mild discomfort to serious heartache. They’re the ones who learn to not only tolerate challenges and suffering, but accept that it’s a natural part of our human existence.  

So where does mindfulness come in?

Being mindful to the hard stuff immediately gives permission to let those feelings arise.  It indirectly applies self-compassion and understanding to the situation at hand and helps us gently notice what’s coming up, without judgement.  When we practice mindfully staying aware, we ride the wave of our temporary pain much easier than if we ignore it, deny it, avoid it, run away from it, self-medicate or numb it.  

By definition, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, or bringing presence to the moment and to our mind’s awareness without judgement.  That’s the key!  It’s easy to practice mindfulness when you’re in front of a pleasant experience or something that generates joy!  It’s much more difficult to bring our attention to the moment when we’re physically, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually uncomfortable.  

Next time you find yourself in a challenging or conflictual situation, notice your knee jerk reaction.  Pay attention to your thoughts and actions.  Then gently take a breath, get grounded and centered and ask yourself what’s needed most here?  How can I bring self-care and self-compassion to this experience?  How can I be mindfully in the moment, and seek to understand this struggle deeper?  

This practice invites us to elevate our consciousness and to become acutely aware of how we take action, and what we do to cope.  I heard recently we touch our phones 2600 times a day on average.  2600 times a day!!!  We’re hungry for distraction.  We’re longing for diversion.  We’re seeking stimulation and confirmation we’re not alone.  But our phones don’t hold the individual answers to what we need most in this moment.  Only we can provide that by tuning in, opening our senses, and bringing self-care and compassion to our momentary experience. Through mindfulness, we can ride the wave of our temporary struggle with more ease, grace and evolved meaning-making.  


Megan Gunnell, LMSW, is a psychotherapist, writer, international retreat leader and public speaker working in Grosse Pointe, MI.  A leading expert in wellness, self-care and mindfulness, her work helps clients transform, restore and reach their highest potential.  A dynamic public speaker, she has presented globally in Finland and Costa Rica and nationwide. This spring she will be a speaker at the Bryant Women’s Summit, RI., at Miraval Resort and Spa, AZ., and at Red Mountain Resort, UT.  With over 20 years experience in the healthcare and therapy industry, she has extensive clinical experience both inpatient and outpatient and a wealth of knowledge to support profound change and growth. She has hosted 5 international retreats in Costa Rica. She holds a BA from Michigan State University and a MSW from The University of Michigan.  She is also a graduate of the Harvard writing and publishing course for healthcare professionals and an advanced level fellow in Guided Imagery and Music from the Mid-Atlantic Institute.  She uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mandala work, guided imagery and shamanic journeying to help her clients break through resistance and fully self-actualize.  She is currently writing a book for women about restoration, renewal and self-care.