Why stepping our of your comfort zone is a good thing for anxiety:
I recently returned from Nepal where I spent two weeks volunteering under the most challenging conditions I’ve ever experienced. Pretty much everything around me was unfamiliar and different. Strange odours, chaos in the streets, constant noise, treacherous roads, contaminated food and undrinkable water, pooping in a hole, eating boiled rice three times a day, and sleeping on a mat on the floor were just a few of the challenges that made two weeks feel like two months.
Although a part of me couldn’t wait to get home, a bigger part felt energised, alive, and unburdened from the usual everyday worries and anxieties.
Why is that I wondered? How could I feel so alive while feeling so uncertain?
Though it might seem counter intuitive at first, studies have shown that stepping out of your comfort zone and into challenging situations can actually reduce anxiety as it forces you to be present and alert to your surroundings.
Anxiety is a future oriented state. Seeing as stepping out of your comfort zone requires heightened senses and more focused attention, this leaves you less time to think and stew over ‘what if’s’. Although this might not sound like fun and initially you may feel some fear, this fear subsides as you learn to embrace the uncertainty, view it as an ally, and recognize the power in stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone.
By doing different and challenging things we break out of our normal routines. Although routines are essential, they can too often promote stagnant, rigid, and habitual thinking. When you break from mindless routine, everyday worries and concerns (like work, relationship, and family stresses) become diminished leaving you with more space to experience the present moment. In other words, your attention becomes focused on the right here and right now.
The best thing about stepping out of your comfort zone is the sense of achievement you get after mastering something challenging. Knowing you’ve reached beyond what you thought capable feels fantastic and can be a great boost to your confidence and self-esteem.
For me it is was navigating myself around a foreign airport (my sense of direction is terrible) and taking a bus to an unknown place in the mountains without being able to read any road signs that led to this sense of accomplishment and incredible feelings of strength.
Try these 20 Ways to stretch yourself and notice how present you feel:
- Driving on the opposite side of the road (in a foreign country of course)
- Physical challenges, such as rock climbing, white water rafting, hiking up a mountain, go- carting, bungee jumping, water skiing, jet skiing,
- Taking a bus or train to an unfamiliar place
- Taking a language class
- Change your daily routine (e.g., sleep at the opposite end of the bed, shower at night, cook dinner in the morning)
- Pick up rubbish by the side of the road
- Involve yourself in community activities
- Offer to help a stranger
- Travel to a third world country
- Stay in a shared hostel
- Camp by yourself
- Go out for dinner by yourself
- Allow a friend to make plans for you so that you have no idea how you’re going to spend your day.
- Put a video of yourself up on Facebook and YouTube
- Explore an unfamiliar city without your phone or map.
- Approach someone at work or out whom you’ve never met
- Take an improv class
- Pick a restaurant without any idea what’s on the menu
- Get someone to read a personal piece of writing
Make sure you pick an experience that is not so overwhelming that it will shoot your nervous system up into overwhelm. Listen to your body and be respectful of your level of tolerance.
Can you think of anymore activities? I’d love for you to share in the comments section below!