By Alexa Bailey, MSW, LMSW

When you think of the word peace, what do you think of? Do you think of not feeling any of the hard stuff? Or maybe just the absence of negative feeling? In life, there are a lot of difficulties that come. And one of the over arching themes of things people want to feel is peace, and finding a way to be okay in the midst of a struggle. But here’s the interesting part: peace doesn’t really mean the absence of feeling, but rather the ability to cope through, feel differently, and interact in a new way with the experiences and feelings that we have.

Emotions are wonderful, terrible, amazing, messy things. Our emotions are there to tell us when something feels really great and make that moment awesome. They also let us know when we aren’t feeling safe, or when something feels sad. They are the alert system that lets us know how our thoughts and things we’re experiencing are affecting us. Sometimes our emotions are really helpful, but I think we often feel the difficulty of those emotions more. Things that can get in the way of us being able to feel okay. But being not okay is part of the building process that allows us to grow. If all we ever felt were good feelings, we wouldn’t really know they were good feelings. Similarly, if all we were feeling were bad feelings we wouldn’t be able to see the bright side either. A very important part of being able to emotionally grow and to feel peace is being able to change the relationship that we have with feeling not okay.

A barricade that often gets in the way of being able to be okay is our avoidance of discomfort. Evaluate for yourself for just a second, when you have a lot on your mind, what do you do? When things are difficult and you’re feeling really down, where do you turn? A recent phenomenon that happens a lot with teenagers (and frankly, adults, too) all around the globe is the use of multiple layers of distraction and stimulation to avoid emotion, which disallows us from being able to connect with our own feelings. Distraction can be a good coping skill, and it’s not always inherently negative. But when distraction becomes the only thing we use, and we‘re using it all the time, we aren’t creating the resilience and the peace that can come from being okay with not being okay.

When difficult things happen, one of the vital parts of coping and processing is being able to validate and feel the emotion. If we shove things down, and partake in the concept of toxic positivity, which is essentially invalidation of your emotions by pretending that everything‘s a-okay when it’s definitely not, then we are dysregulating our systems in a way that can be very harmful. If we are constantly telling ourselves that things are okay when they’re not, then our emotional alarm system won’t work as efficiently, because it gets confused. Being not okay is not always easy and sometimes it’s really, really difficult. But being not okay is essential to overcome that difficulty. As we embrace our hard feelings, and we interact with them head-on, look them in the eyes and say “I see you”, we take back our power and control of the situation. So, the next time you are feeling not okay, pay attention to what that feels like. Listen to what your body is telling you, where you feel it physically, where your thoughts are taking you, and what you experience. When you intimately know what it feels like to not be okay, this is what empowers us to, eventually, be okay.


Alexa Bailey is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW), who works in private practice providing therapeutic services at Evolve Counseling. She has experience treating several different populations and areas, including trauma, anxiety, depression, relational challenges, and life transitions with both young adults/adolescents and adults. Alexa is a big advocate of self-care and creating whole personal wellness through positive change and healthy habits.