“Growth Exists Outside Your Comfort Zone” I have heard this saying too many times to count. Every time I have embarked on a new fitness regime, diet or self-esteem boosting activity, this phrase comes out one way or another. And I get it, yes if you leave the realm of what you are comfortable with you will experience new things you will inevitably learn (and grow) from those experiences. Sometimes though, these experiences are not positive ones and, for some people, may serve only to validate pre-existing notions about their inadequacies.
Before I explain, I want to make it clear that I am not disagreeing with the idea that a person shouldn’t let fear stand in their way of trying new things. I just want to explore the notion that ‘Growth Exists Outside Your Comfort Zone’ is not an absolute. It is not the ONLY place where growth can occur. It is possible to grow within your own world, within the walls that you have built for one reason or another. You aren’t destined to be unhappy, sick or lonely for the rest of your life just because you are unwilling to ‘take a leap of faith’ into the arms of a world that can be frightening to those of us with sensitive souls.
Being a very introverted person who struggles with often debilitating social anxiety, I have a very small comfort zone. It’s roughly 700 square feet or the size of my apartment. Anything outside of these walls is, to some degree, outside of my comfort zone. No matter where I am or what I am doing, if I am not at home part of me really wants to be. The part of me gets bigger and bigger the longer I am away. Every day, I leave to go to work and there is inevitably a ball of anxiety that begins to grow in my chest. I spend the 45-minute car ride trying not to list the number of things that could possibly go wrong and focus on the things that could go right. I am very aware of the irrationality of over-thinking and making predictions and I do my best to avoid it but it really is a part of who I am. As many times as I have driven to work I have never managed to kick this habit, I leave my comfort zone every day, 5 to 6 times a week and travel into the unknown and I haven’t developed any resilience to the anxiety or aversion to being around people all day. However, I do accept that if I did somehow find myself in a ‘work from home’ situation, I might never leave my apartment – ever – and that’s probably not healthy.
Another situation that I have never found helpful, is trying to force myself to join group exercise classes. I have tried Zumba, boxercise, Muay Thai and, most recently Cross-Fit. I am always drawn to the sight of fit bodies working and laughing together. I sign up, hyperventilate before my first class, feel too anxious to go the next time and then feel like I missed too much and people probably don’t think I’m serious about it, I’m not going back. I realize now that it really isn’t the fitness activity that I crave, it’s the happiness everyone else seems to derive from it. But it’s THEIR happiness. The last thing that I really want to do after spending 8-hours interacting with people, is to spend another 60 minutes surrounded by people. I always end up sticking my headphones on and going for a jog, my perfect wind down at the end of the day. That’s in my comfort zone, that makes me healthier and it changes my bad brain chemicals into good brain chemicals, what more could I want? Yoga though, I can handle yoga classes.
I guess my point really is that if you have a very small comfort zone like me, don’t get down on yourself for not wanting to leave it, or at least not for long. Try to focus on the fact that, for introverts – especially ones with social anxiety – every single thing you do that involves working with, conversing with, lining up with and sharing the road with other people, is outside your comfort zone you just may not realize it. Give yourself a break. Try something new at your own pace if you want, or don’t. It’s your life, growth can be found in reading a new book, trying a new recipe or starting a blog for that matter. Do you and be comfortable 😊