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Work Out For Your Well-Being

'No Pain, No Gain' applies to your psyche, too.

It's all too easy to "fall out of shape" when it comes to managing your emotions. Life inevitably involves some distress, but people's need to feel happy often conflicts with this. So, they blind themselves to what's upsetting them, sort of like becoming an emotional couch potato. They cope by pushing it aside, or burying it deep in their psychic cellar. Rather than allow themselves to really feel distress, they sometimes turn to food, alcohol, or unending hours of work. Rather than feel vulnerable, they rage at others or maintain a position of control in their relationships.

Even if people don't use self-destructive habits to help them avoid distress, these deep problems do not just disappear. As I noted earlier, it's more like those issues are shoved into a psychic cellar; and eventually, if particular problems or themes repeat enough, that cellar gets too full. The "junk" pushes against the door. And people feel that pressure in many ways, such as in their depression or anxiety or overeating. They might also experience insomnia, general fatigue, or chronic back pain.

In order to venture out from their familiar way of responding to distress, people often need to become so upset that it can no longer be denied or comfortably tolerated. Sometimes this feels like an annoying thorn in their side; at other times, it's more like being hit over the head with a two-by-four. When it's the latter, they often need support and comfort. Then, when they are feeling the pain (but not overwhelmed by it), they can begin to truly reconsider some aspects of themselves. They can open themselves up to choosing healthier ways of coping; such as exercising rather than emotional eating, or talking through problems with a spouse rather than staying away, working long hours. And so ‘no pain, no gain' slogan applies to people's psychological health, as well as their physical condition.


Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She is also the ‘Relationship' expert on WebMD's Relationships and Coping Community.

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