Leaning Into Discomfort

Sitting in your air-conditioned house, on your comfortable couch, with food in your belly and probably a phone within touching distance. All human history, art, philosophy and any other possible piece of information you desire condensed into six inches sitting there in a device. You’re the pinnacle of thousands of years of trial and error, evolutionary adaptation, the tip of the spear. The ancestors who came before you have bled, fought and paved the way, given sacrifices for us all to be here. What a time to be alive, all the marvels that have lead to you being able to kick back, enjoying the good life. Or has it?

According to recent data from the National Institute of Mental Health 

  • 31.9% of teens have some type of anxiety disorder.
  • 8.3 % of those with an anxiety disorder have severe impairment as a result.
  • 38% of female teens have an anxiety disorder.
  • 26.1% of male teens have an anxiety disorder.

These are some pretty confronting numbers and are purely just reporting on anxiety disorders, not the other myriad of potential stress related conditions. Let’s have a look at stress.

Data from the American Psychological Association reports that:

  • 10% say stress causes them to get lower grades than they think they can get.
  • 59% say balancing all their activities causes stress.
  • 40% say they neglect home responsibilities due to stress.
  • 40% say they’re irritable due to stress.
  • 37% said stress causes them to feel overwhelmed.
  • 36% say they feel tired because of stress.
  • 30% say they feel sad or depressed because of stress.

Now, the caveat I would like to add here is that perhaps we are merely becoming more aware of our wide scale mental health disorders due to removing the stigma associated. It’s possible with people becoming more open and willing to talk about these things, we just understand ourselves better. This may all be part of the human condition, or maybe, there’s more to it?

I’m sure you have heard of the terminology ‘Helicopter Parenting’, in which people allege we have raised a generation of overly protected, very sensitive individuals, who have very little resilience and crumble at the first sign of adversity. I am twenty-eight, i fall into this generation, and if you ask me, i think it’s probably true.

What great adversity has my generation had to face in developed western countries? Where to travel first once we finish school? What course out of hundreds at university should we study? Or perhaps the worst thing that’s happened is a break up or having to learn how to pay our own phone bill? I’m generalising of course, there’s many of us who have had to do it harder than I am portraying, but I would argue there’s a large populous that the above describes perfectly. Either way – there’s no arguing that these are extremely privileged first world problems. You may ask, so what? I like my comfort.

Well, yes you might. Until you don’t. Perhaps the ambient anxiety you feel is your mind and body telling you something.

Why do so many of us crumble as soon as we are presented with even the slightest bit of stress? I am suggesting its too much comfort and luxury, not enough wilfully hard, deliberately stressful situations we put ourselves through. Remember, we are evolved to hunt animals and survive the cold, live in crazy hot climates and carry dead animals over our shoulders for miles. When was the last time you did something that hard?

Michael Easter, the author of The Comfort Crisis goes to some length to describe why we should seek out discomfort in order to feel less ambient anxiety and more fulfilment. If you’re interested, check out his book. I tend to agree, I believe its similar to working out. If we do not, our body is feeble and weak, we can barely make it up stairs without blowing up. Our ancestors could trek miles in the heat with a sixty pound animal on their back, and people who still live this way today report next to no mental health issues. Anxiety? What is that.. I’m too busy fishing, climbing, building and connecting with my local tribe they say.

Think of the mind like a muscle, if you do not work out. You’re at the mercy of the next mildly stressful event as if you’re being confronted by a tiger. Try and make these hard tasks some what enjoyable, maybe you like talking with friends? Invite some for a hike, or go challenge each other to some sort of physical event. Do stuff that is novel and makes the brain fire up in new ways. Comfort is an insidious beast that sucks the life out of us and seeks to suck us in, one TV show and warm shower at a time.

Next time you get the opportunity, give it a go – lean into the discomfort.

“Life begins at the edge of our comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

Until next time.

❤ M L Wood

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