The “comfort zone” refers to a safe space where our stress and anxiety levels are not exacerbated by external stressors from the outside world. In short, it is a place of calmness in both mind and life. The comfort zone can be anything we have subconsciously tailored to meet our unique emotional and psychological needs for mental peace. This can range from staying at home reading books and watching movies, to visiting our favourite coffee shop or spending time with people to whom we are close. While the comfort zone can take different forms depending on our unique interests, comforts, and fears, it serves the same purpose detailed above. The comfort zone can serve us in both beneficial and adverse ways, which will be detailed across this piece.
The act of “coming out” of our comfort zone involves undertaking activities that disrupt the normal rhythm of our lives, thereby instilling a sense of anxious tension within us. Examples can include literally any endeavour. This ranges from changing jobs, trying a new activity that we’ve never done before, to even asking someone out on a date! From a psychological perspective, leaving our comfort zone is the act of doing something that exceeds the mental boundaries we have set for ourselves. It’s the fear factor behind these actions that make us accustomed to staying in our comfort zones and keeping stress to a minimum. However, the main problem with not branching out and trying new things is that we significantly restrict our possibilities of boosting our self-esteem and confidence, as well as the chance to enrich our lives through experience and self-discovery.
Research shows that trying and experiencing new things that mildly stimulate our fight or flight system can boost dopamine levels in the brain and provide us with a sense of achievement and improved life satisfaction. The fight or flight system is our body’s mechanism for regulating stress levels and stress management. The subsequent “high” we receive from doing something that we thought we couldn’t do can quickly boost our self-esteem, confidence, and provide new insight into what we can actually achieve if we make the conscious decision to give things a try. In my opinion, we don’t necessarily have to make a long-term commitment to whatever we try; I believe just having a go is enough for us to experience the benefits described.
It’s important to identify what our comfort zone means to us and what form it takes, and to take small, gradual steps to branch outside of it. For introverts, this can literally be something trivial such as striking up a conversation with the barista while you’re waiting for your coffee! It’s important to take small and gradual steps when undertaking this method of self-improvement as a means of keeping stress levels under some manner of control. Taking too far a step into worlds unknown can have an adverse effect on our wellbeing and the overall experience, particularly if you have an anxiety-related disorder.
Staying in the comfort zone doesn’t always act as a hindrance to our growth and development. A fantastic way to use our time in the comfort zone in a productive way would be to reflect, plan, and ponder on what we may like to do in the near future in terms of taking our lives to the next level. I’m sure many people plan their next moves in the comfort of their own homes, among other things. I’m putting this point forward purely as a means of bringing our awareness to the idea of using our comfort zones constructively and holistically.
The concept of the “comfort zone” has garnered significant attention in mental health discourse. While it’s important to seek some refuge within our comfort zones during difficult or traumatic periods of life as a method of self-care, it’s also important not to grow accustomed to keeping ourselves in our comfort zone for too long. We only have one life, and time moves faster than we think. What’s beautiful about facing our fears and taking on new challenges is that, by pushing through the initial stress and anxiety, we prove to ourselves that we can break down the mental barriers enforced by our own insecurities or the opinions of others.
Dean Cranney is a psychology student and aspiring mental health writer and advocate with personal experiences of anxiety and depressive episodes.