People are almost afraid of discomfort. I remember as a child I hated the beach because I didn’t like to sit in the sand and have the sand stick to me after a swim. I hated it so much that I would cry every time I had to go to the beach (Me! The island gal! Can you imagine!). Today, the beach is one of the places where I feel most at home.
I have always been afraid of discomfort, and did my absolute best to avoid it at all costs. Mostly due to my struggles with anxiety – my panic attacks were brought on by extreme feelings of discomfort, like overheating, not being able to breathe as well as you’d like, feeling faint or nauseous. None of those things are nice feelings, and I knew to associate those things with public embarrassment and loss of control of my body – so it’s really no wonder I don’t like discomfort.
But as I said, my dislike of discomfort started much earlier – and days at the beach were one of them.
In Glennon Doyle’s book ‘Untamed,’ although I didn’t connect her very much, her motto that she repeated throughout the novel really stuck with me. “We can do hard things.” I’m sure that she was referring to other hard things such as confidence, divorce, poverty, etc etc etc but discomfort should not be underestimated.
Now, I’m not saying going to the beach and sitting in the sand constitutes a hard thing, but embracing discomfort, sitting in discomfort, is a hard thing to do – and something that humans are not predisposed to do. In anxiety therapy you’re taught to sit with your discomfort; when you feel like you’re about to have a panic attack or you’re becoming overwhelmed, instead of worrying about the fact that you’re uncomfortable – try just accepting it instead. That you feel out of control and you’re not happy with your state of being at the time: the fact of accepting your discomfort, sitting with it, embracing it, is one of the most helpful techniques of getting rid of anxiety.
In a world of convenience that makes comfort one of the most important factors of people’s lives, it goes to show how predisposed we are to favour comfort; how important it is to feel at home, at peace, safe – and the opposite of those things must be bad. If you’re feeling calm and safe then you’re feeling comfortable, and if you’re feeling uncomfortable then the opposite must be true. As an innate factor of survival for human beings, feeling safe and not being hungry; having water to drink; feeling at home – these things make us feel comfortable, and it’s ingrained in our very DNA to want to avoid going without those things (because obviously, back in our cavemen era, we would probably die. So there’s that.)
Today in the first world society, we live a life that is relatively easy. Yes, we might have jobs that we hate; good food and wine are becoming unaffordable; we can’t always do the things we want; buy the things we want; spend our time the way we would like to; but generally in the first world society we are pretty comfortable. Keeping that in mind, having things that make you uncomfortable are generally not going to be life-threatening. You will not starve to death. You will not die by being eaten by a predator. You have running water in the taps you can drink, and hopefully you have a roof over your head. Feeling uncomfortable is not a factor of survival, instead it’s more giving a scary presentation at work, or it’s going for a cold-water swim and not being able to use the sauna afterwards, and having to get into your wet clothes and sit with them for a while (guilty). Are you going to die of hypothermia? Probably not, but it’s uncomfortable.
But at the end of the day it’s actually a huge bonus for you because you have taken on something that has made you feel out of your comfort zone, not happy – not in a safe state of mind even – and you’ve come out the other side better for it because you’ve achieved it! You completed that task that you didn’t want to do, that didn’t make you feel at ease.
I think a lot of human self-growth comes from feeling uncomfortable and sitting with it, embracing it. At one point in time your mum leaving you at nursery was a scary thing. It was uncomfortable and you felt unsafe. You probably cried a lot too. But without that discomfort today we would not be able to live by ourselves, without the calming blanket of our parents.
Our greatest achievements come from pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone. If it feels easy – it’s probably not going to be life-changing. On the other hand, if it feels hard and scary and so goddamn uncomfortable but you’re doing it anyway – you’re probably going to achieve some outcome that you couldn’t imagine you could do. So for anxiety’s – and your own self-worth’s – sake, try and break out of your routine once in a while. You might just do something amazing.
Image via Instagram @dopblog