We all have a comfort zone and, if you think about it, it’s kind of like an elastic band. Inside the circumference of the elastic lie the activities, people and situations that we feel comfortable participating in and with. This would include things like work, our circle of friends, our usual hobbies or activities, our usual restaurants and even usual places we travel. The things that lie in our comfort zone are things that – you guessed it – we feel comfortable with. They are known to us, we understand them and there are really no surprises with them, that is why they are comfortable. These things are great, but on the other side of the elastic lies the rest of the world. The people we don’t know, the activities we have not done, the situations we have not been in, as well as the things we fear or have avoided. Although it is vital to have places where you feel comfortable, there is a whole other world outside of that comfort zone. That other world has the potential to provide us with some amazing experiences.
Recently I became aware that my comfort zone was shrinking and the circle of things I found comfortable was becoming smaller and smaller. The big eye opener for me was when I went to leave on a trip to Arizona with one of my dearest friends. When I booked the trip, I was excited as I love to travel and explore (or at least I had). But in the last three years my life has been full of changes, so I found comfort and solace in my home and near surroundings. I had been on weekend trips and a few other longer holidays but not much in the last year. As the day neared for me to leave, I observed that I was starting to feel anxious. I didn’t think too much of it, as trying to get things packed and sorted for a trip can sometimes be stressful. The day I was to leave on the trip arrived and a swell of anxiety filled my body. I was in what I would equate to a small panic attack. I did my usual grounding exercises and tried to feel into the emotions… nothing was working! To be honest, it got so bad I even contemplated cancelling the trip as the thought of leaving was so overwhelming! Thankfully, I had made a commitment to my friend and I take those pretty seriously. That value forced me to continue with the plan, despite the anxiety. As I drove to meet my friend, I was flooded with emotions to the point I started to cry uncontrollably. I used my self- awareness skills to try and investigate what was going on and to get myself grounded, but it wasn’t working. So, I resigned to let the tears come and I cried for almost the whole drive. I’m not really sure what I was crying for, but it was there so I let it flow. During this time, my thoughts were swirling with self-doubt, guilt, fear and anxiety. On one hand, I felt silly because I knew that I wanted to do this, but on the other hand the emotions were just so strong. I found the further I got away, the calmer I started to feel. When I did meet up with my friend (whom is a great support) I completely broke down again. The first hour and half of our journey was spent by her supporting me and me releasing and speaking all the guilt, fear and anxious thoughts I was having. Then just as quickly as the tears came they dissipated. I was now feeling relief. It was at that point I realized I had let my comfort zone get way too small and what I was experiencing was the result of finally stretching my comfort zone.
I say all that to state that we have a comfort zone for a reason. But when that comfort zone becomes too restrictive, it’s time to start considering making some changes and stretch your elastic!
Stretch your elastic!
Stretching your comfort zone can be a scary thing. That means we have to venture beyond the known, beyond the expected, into unknown, unfamiliar terrain and that is anxiety producing. I think all too often our comfort zones stay stagnant or even shrink because we get busy in our lives. On top of that, I think that so many of us are stressed and overwhelmed in our day to day lives that just thought of adding a little more is too much. But the thing is, just like me, if we let our comfort zones get too small then we miss out on some pretty amazing experiences.
Since my realization of my shrinking comfort zone, I vowed to stretch it out! The experience served as a huge eye opener for me! Since then, I have started pushing myself to get out more and meet new people. Trying new things and having new experiences is pretty cool! I am now feeling much more capable of handling the new and much less stressed me when faced with new opportunities.
How do we do it? How do we stretch our comfort zone? It’s easy, depending on the type of person you are. You can take baby steps or you can really push yourself as long as you are trying something new. For example, it could simply be visiting new restaurants, trying a new sport, participating in new social activities, meeting new people, volunteering…anything that gets you trying something new. And if you are really adventurous you could travel to new places, take weekend adventure trips to new destinations, join that yoga or art class that you have avoided, write an article for your local paper or maybe really challenge yourself to face something you are afraid of like swimming if you have a fear of water, or joining toastmasters if you fear public speaking. Whatever level you choose to stretch your comfort zone, any and all will help!
When we stretch our comfort zones we feel a rush of exhilaration, a sense of completion, a sense of accomplishment and a well-earned respect for ourselves. Even if the activity is not all you thought it could, be you still did it and that is the important part! Each time I go out of my way to stretch my comfort zone I realize how truly strong and capable I am and I am inspired to try even more new things. Once you start you just want to keep going! And isn’t moving forward and finding your happiness the point of life?
So, if you have found that your comfort zone is becoming too restrictive, believe in yourself! You have the courage to stretch your elastic band! Remember, an elastic band stretches before it breaks, so go out there and stretch it…even if it’s only a little bit!