(Dis)comfort Zones

discomfort zonesBy Mai – PeerTalk Blogger

I was going to start this piece by describing what my ‘comfort zone’ looked like. I expected that to be easy. But it wasn’t long before I realised; I don’t have a clue what my comfort zone actually ‘looks’ like. At first this was confusing, but after a little reflection it made perfect sense. A comfort zone isn’t so much a physical place, as a feeling - or in some cases, the absence of feeling.

If I’m honest, I think my comfort zone resides more prominently in the latter group. In order to be comfortable, I numb; I’m a ‘numb-er’.

Everything feels a bit more manageable that way. Nevertheless, over the years I’ve learnt the hard way that life doesn’t really go anywhere when you try to live it in a state of numbness. In fact when you’re (inevitably) forced to wake up and step back into reality, life just feels even more unmanageable than before. All in all, living within your comfort zone becomes a paradox; at the outset it promises comfort, but get too settled there and it leads to quite the opposite.

It’s all very well me saying this now, writing in a relatively calm and objective frame of mind - it’s a completely different story when my emotions are running the show. In those circumstances, going with whatever will give me an instant ‘hit’ of comfort seems (to my frenetically anxious brain) like the most logical thing to do. “Why wait?!” my mind cries, “what could be more important than your immediate and rapid comfort?!” Well perhaps this will sound obvious, but it turns out there are many, many things that are more important - and easy as it is to say that whilst calm, the ability to recall that fact when it really counts is something that takes practice.

Of course, that list of things that are indeed more important than immediate comfort, will differ from person to person. But to give you an idea, here is one of the major examples from my own ever-growing list:

Health - battling with an eating disorder means that the run-up to a mealtime can often be fraught with anxiety. My craving for immediate comfort demands that I skip the meal or restrict what I eat. But looking at things objectively I can see that years of food restriction has had catastrophic effects on my health. If I carry on giving in to my cravings for immediate comfort, things certainly won’t get any better for my health - they’ll probably get worse. Resisting that craving provides an opportunity for things to improve; it’s the first step in a chain of events that could produce a much greater, deeper and longer-lasting comfort:

  • Eating more might lead to weight gain.
  • Weight gain will improve my health - more energy, better circulation, restored fertility, a functioning digestive system (list not exhaustive!)
  • Improved health will allow me to do things I enjoy again - social activities, physical activity, holidays...
  • It could even make possible my dream of one day becoming a Mum.

In reality, I can’t always bring all of that knowledge to mind when I’m up to my eyeballs in anxiety. But I’m practicing. Whenever I can, I write out that chain of events (or another example from my personal list), making it a little bit easier to recall the next time I’m craving the immediate comfort I get from anorexia. Because when it’s written on a page, even I find it hard to argue that immediate comfort could better than the real, enduring comfort that is mine for the taking, if I’m only brave enough to pursue it.