How many times have you been encouraged to get out of your comfort zone? Plenty, I’m sure. We all know by now that our comfort zone can be very limiting. Some people stay in that zone because, well, it’s easy. For them, its laziness. Not hard to remedy, but it is work.
But I’m not talking about lazy or unmotivated people. I am talking about those of us who struggle with anxiety of all kinds. Our comfort zone becomes a safety net and makes it hard to move beyond it. It becomes a catch 22. You want to grow and overcome your anxiety, yet, the thing that helps you do that causes more anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle.
I’m here, now what?
Have you noticed everyone tells you to get out of your comfort zone, but they fail to mention what to do when you get there. So you’ve psyched yourself up, determined to do something unfamiliar and scary and half way through, you’re done. Or maybe not even half way through. Do you suck it up and push through? Do you run back to safety?
Let me tell you a story.
I have all the anxieties. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve had anxiety since I was three, so it’s like an old friend. Since I’ve had it for so long I know all the signs and symptoms and can manage it. But I manage it from safety. I don’t put myself in situations that I know I will struggle with.
So, last year, I decided this year I would challenge myself. I was going to do BIG things that were far out of my comfort zone. The first one was to attend a blogger retreat. There were 30 other bloggers all staying in a house in Melbourne, Florida. I struggled, a lot, but because the group (and the amazing leader) was so understanding, it was a great experience.
The big test
But there was another big thing I was going to do. I signed up for a child care business conference in Orlando. With 850 attendees. I don’t know anyone. This is terrifying.
Here’s a secret. I’m actually at this conference right now. Today is day one. I learned a lot about child care business, but more important I learned something about how to handle being out of your comfort zone.
The conference is in a beautiful luxury hotel. I’m staying here, so that means when I need a break, I have a place to go. The day started off fine. I registered, got all my conference goodies and realized I was 45 minutes early. My choices were stand around awkwardly or take a breather and walk my goodies up to my room.
So I took a walk back to my room.
The good with the bad
I returned and the rest of the morning went well. I met up with another North Carolina provider and we exchanged information. The general session was informative. The special speaker was hilarious.
We took a lunch break. Yes, I could have stayed around and “networked”, but I knew I needed a break. So I enjoyed an hour in my room of snacking and watching crime tv.
When I returned, It was time for the break out sessions. There were 6 separate topics being covered in 6 different rooms. Everyone chose which one they wanted and went to that room. The first session I attended was great! I have actually been reading the speaker’s book, so I was thrilled to have gotten to hear her speak.
I had my next session picked. So did everyone else. Apparently that session’s topic was very popular. So popular that people were pushing and shoving to get in. I got inside the room and more people pushed past me to grab seats. As much as I wanted to attended the session, I knew I had to get out of the chaos.
Once I got to the hallway, I stepped away and focused on breathing. In the past I have always run away. But this time I wanted to do something different. I tried to go into a different session. Well, so was everyone else that couldn’t get into the other session. The chaos was too much and I knew I needed to take a step back.
Listen to Your Body
To me, today was not a failure.
No, I didn’t attend every minute of the conference. But I did push past my initial and typical responses to being out of my comfort zone. But I also listened to what my body was telling me. When I am over-stressed I can’t get a full breath. It’s as if I can’t fill my lungs. Then, I start yawning, even though I am not tired. Since I can’t fully inhale, I can’t fully yawn. So that kicks up my anxiety.
Then my stomach gets involved.
I took a minute in the conference hall and assessed myself. What do I need right now? All I wanted was to change out of my “business casual” dress and into jeans and a tee shirt. Up to my room I went and changed. It was amazing the relief that alone provided.
Then I reassessed. There was still another special speaker, then dinner, then a Margarita party. What did I want to do?
I realized that I hadn’t been eating well. The only thing I brought were some “road trip snacks” with me and that’s all I had eaten for the last 36 hours. I had not eaten an actual meal in probably 48 hours. Clearly I needed food.
I gathered my keys and my bag and looked up the closest Target and Chik Fil A.
Then I decided that I was ok with missing the special speaker. I am not a drinker, so no need for a Margarita party.
I grabbed some cheese and Salami to keep in the fridge as well as some drinks. I bought myself a book, because books make everything better. Especially books bought at Target.
Chik Fil A mac and cheese is the perfect comfort food for a stressful day.
Self Care out of the Comfort Zone
We hear about the importance of self care. But no one mentions self care when you are out of your comfort zone. That’s what I did today.
I pushed myself but I took my time and reset myself. My decisions weren’t based on fight or flight when I did that.
By listening to what my body was telling me, I took care of the issues that were contributing to the anxiety. I gave myself the option to return to the conference ( and I might have had it been something other than Margaritas)
Learning to do things out of your comfort zone doesn’t happen all at once. It isn’t like being a baby bird and being shoved out of the nest. It’s more like starting in the shallow end of the pool. You go in a little, get used to the water. Then you wade in a little deeper. You are feeling confident and then someone splashes you right in the face.
You move back, get a towel, and wipe your face. Take a breath, and wade back out. This might go on for a while. When you get really brave, the dog paddling starts. By the next visit to the pool, you might be ready to start right in the middle with doggie paddling.
The point is, it’s a gradual thing. You have to manage your anxiety and take care of yourself. Yes, growth comes from going outside of what you are familiar with. But do oak trees grow over night? It takes time for them to grow strong roots. Those roots are what allow them to weather storms and other trees falling around them.
Build Strong Roots
If you want to move past your anxiety and be able to do things out of your comfort zone, you are going to need to have string roots. These roots are going to keep you steady when anxiety is pushing you to run back to safety.
Know your limits and be willing to push just past them. If you do and you feel good, keep going! But if you push past your limits and you are getting worked up, take a step back, reassess and try again.
Recognize the victories, big and small. It might not be huge to any one else, but I recognized that I made an effort when I typically would not have. For me, that was huge.
Make a plan. What can you do differently next time? Do you need to walk it off? Would self talk help? What phrases could you tell yourself?
Remind yourself WHY you are trying to do things outside of your comfort zone. Unless you just enjoy torturing yourself, there is probably a really good reason you want to be doing something that makes you uncomfortable.
One down, Two to Go.
That’s right. I have two more days. I am going to make them count. Today I made it through 2 general sessions and a break out session. I even networked and made a contact. Who knows what tomorrow holds?
When did you last do something out of your comfort zone? Are you glad you did? Comment below !