Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

One of my clients recently admitted they felt disappointed that they still felt spikes of anxiety when they drove even though they’ve been working at this for a few weeks.

The fact is, we need anxiety and we need stress. Without it the human race would not have survived.  The Sabre Toothed Tigers would have eaten us long ago.  The good news..! there are no more Sabre Toothed Tigers.  The bad news… We still jump into Fight and Flight response at our perception of danger.  This is a perfectly normal, but these days it’s other things that trigger this.

Fact:  We are only biologically programmed to fear two things: loud noises and fear of falling. (This is not a fear of heights).

All other fears and phobias have been learned.  We may have learned them through transference from a parent or another influential person in our life.  Or, we may have had a negative experience, and our subconscious brain starts to overreact to ‘keep you safe’.  Phobias are more pronounced than fears. They develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation.  On the basis you are reading this it is likely to be an exaggerated fear of driving. If not altogether, then on a particular type of road or area.

Subconscious mind always wants to keep us safe

There is good news, but it won’t be easy.  The subconscious brain will do it’s best to ‘keep us safe’ so we need to demonstrate to the subconscious mind that we are OK.  No one state will remain the same for long. So, when you’re feeling the anxiety and discomfort rising, know that this WILL pass.

All states change

Imagine listening to a comedian telling a joke, you may well laugh and if it’s really funny and well delivered you may laugh for what you feel to be quite a while.  But the laughter subsides, and our state resumes to something more stable again. Should you hear the same joke again, while you still consider it funny, it won’t have the same impact on you, and if it you heard it several times, its impact totally subsides. But a new joke would have you laughing again… for a while anyway.

So, it stands to reason that when in a heightened state of stress, anxiety and panic, while it is a far less desirable state than laughter, it too will pass!  Granted it is not a comfortable state to be in, and our natural default is to avoid this state or stay in it for a little time as possible.  However, just like hearing the same joke over and over will wear thin, so too will the wave of anxiety and high stress if we can just accept that being uncomfortable is something that we need to become comfortable with.  Sounds like a paradox doesn’t it.  But what we resit will persist.

Stress in small doses is necessary

Notice I’m using the phrase ‘high stress’.  Stress is normal and we do need to have a level of stress to remain present and in control when we are driving.  People perform well under low level periodical stress.  Research has proved that people who were told that feeling a reasonable level of stress is helpful performed over 30% better in an exam those who were not.  Stress in small doses is a necessary state to keep us safe and help through our day-to-day activities.


It’s when stress or anxiety is present for longer periods of time, or it spikes disproportionately that we have an issue.  Baby steps will help us gently desensitise.  A useful coping strategy that can help is to reframe the anxiety to a challenge, curiosity or excitement. If we can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, we can start to manage the situation more effectively.

Cold shower

Another example in facing discomfort is taking a cold shower.  There is ample research these days on the benefits for mental and physical health of showering or immersing ourselves in cold water.  Fact:  This is NOT comfortable!  I speak with first-hand experience as this is something I do regularly.  I used to hate turning my tap to cold at the end of my shower. I would tense up and brace myself for the 30 seconds I tried to stay under the flow of the cold water.  However, I soon learned to stop resisting the discomfort and breathe into it and accept it.  The discomfort is still there but it’s so much easier to cope with when you accept it.  I got comfortable with being uncomfortable as it’s only for a short period of time.

I also recently attended an open water swimming event where I swam in eight-degree water for half an hour.  It was the adrenaline that fuelled me through the event.  It was very uncomfortable, but I accepted it as my challenge. The body fights the discomfort in the first few moments, but after a while I settled into it.  The elation at the end of the challenge was amazing.  (Can I just add this is not a suggestion you all start jumping into cold water this winter.  I have been doing this for several years and have habituated to this over a few years.  Start with the cold showers).

What we resist, persists

Resist the discomfort, it will go on for longer.  Accept the discomfort as a challenge and we will start to habituate to our situation and then we steadily desensitise.

New perspective

My client who explained they were disappointed their anxiety and discomfort had not ‘gone away’ by now, has a new perspective.  They had forgotten that some of the smaller journeys that were initially challenging, are far less uncomfortable now as they had already habituated and without realising desensitised to them.  They are still pushing themselves to bigger and more challenging journeys, this is why they are still feeling the anxiety.  I reminded them to look back at their journal.  Use their coping strategies and congratulate themselves on each and every achievement that has been made. Rest and move to the next level. You can do the same.

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