Overcoming Anxiety: Tip #11
A comfort zone is the personal bubble we each create for ourselves. In this bubble comes little risk, and a relatively steady level of performance. We find comfort in this zone because it is predictable, familiar, and consists of thoughts and actions we know well.
So...If a comfort zone is exactly what it implies - comforting - then why am I recommending you to step outside of it? Wouldn't that create anxiety instead of reducing it?
While a comfort zone is indeed comforting, it is comforting for all the wrong reasons. We develop a comfort zone based on our perception about what we can and cannot do, what we think we are capable of vs. what we are actually capable of. If we think we won't be able to handle a job, we won't apply. If we think we'll embarrass ourselves when out for a cup of coffee, we won't go. The truth is, we are often capable of a lot more than we think, and by staying in our comfort zone, we greatly reduce our chance of ever finding that out.
Two examples of staying in our comfort zone (and its effects) are as follows:
If we feel we cannot strike up and maintain good conversations when out for dinner with friends, we may avoid these gatherings, time and time again. Why? Because we feel more safe, more comfortable, and more at ease, staying at home, where there is no pressure to interact. Sure this may be comforting, but unfortunately, our anxiety around others will continue to build the more we are removed from them. We will continue to think we cannot handle it, without ever finding out for sure.
Even though we've disliked our job for so long, we remain in our current position due to the anxiety of working someplace new - in a new environment, with new coworkers, and a new commute. We may think we cannot handle it, and as a result, avoid it. BUT, how do we know we cannot handle it? Sure we are staying in our comfort zone and sticking to a familiar environment, but by going to work upset each day, we have to think, is our comfort zone serving us well?
Gradually taking small steps outside your comfort zone, and into anxiety-provoking situations, will slowly increase your tolerance to new and unfamiliar situations. Now, I'm not saying to go sky-diving if you are afraid of heights, or to spend three hours in the mall if you have social anxiety. What is important is that you experience small and healthy levels of what makes you uncomfortable. Instead of going out for dinner with a large group of friends, perhaps go out for dinner once every few weeks with one close friend. If you have intense anxiety at the mall, perhaps take a five minute drive around the mall. Do you feel anxious when saying "no" at work? Try saying no to a family member or close friend at first.
Remember, while comfort zones are indeed comforting, they do not allow us to grow. Performing the same actions, thinking the same thoughts, and following the same routine day in and day out keeps us stagnant. If our goal is to improve our strengths, work on our weaknesses, and grow as a person, it is essential to take small steps that challenge ourselves. By taking these steps, we will realize that we can handle whatever comes our way. Then, when larger, more unpredictable events happen in life, we will feel more confident, more capable, and more aware of how to handle our anxiety.
What's one small step outside your comfort zone you will take today?
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