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Comfort Zones & Mental Health

Hello Blog!

Ah it feels good to write – ok, fair enough, to type.

Happy new year. I can’t remember if I’ve ‘written’ since we entered January because my memory is embarrassingly bad ATM so this might just be the first blog of 2019. Welcome or welcome back!

I write after a very busy couple of weeks. I write straight after a dance class this eve. Those newer in my life might think I do these on the reg and have a certain level of confidence to be able to. Those older know the real truth. Especially my cousin (aka best dance teacher ever, hi Dan!) who spent years trying to get me to come to her dance fitness class first and then eventually to try salsa.

“Salsa?! Where you eventually dance in partners. Like, with another person, then multiple people in a circle. When I’m so uncoordinated and don’t know what I’m doing (cue much more negative self talk), yeah, I don’t think so.”

Well. This time last year, I tried salsa. With my husband too – come back husband! I miss you! ( come back to salsa, I mean. We’re still together, after almost 6 months married – wow, when did the time go so quick?!)

Anyway…

I liked it. Admittedly the dance fitness class years before probably helped me a little bit with my coordination problems but more problematic was always my confidence.

Trying new things as a generally anxious person is bloomin’ hard may I add. Very, very hard. For those with depression or those who struggle with (regular) low moods, too. Imagine inner voices telling you you’re not good enough like a record stuck on repeat and the highest volume with no off switch. Not nice is it? So things like dance or fitness classes are a huge achievement for me. Every single time. Even when I’m feeling in my more well state. I’m proud of myself and grateful to my body. Exercising for mental health changed my life as cheesy as it sounds.

It used to be in my life when I struggled with body image and disordered eating but now it has another purpose.

You might be thinking the title of this blog should have been more aimed at exercise for mental wellbeing but actually it’s not just about that. It’s about this zone called the comfort zone. We all know it. It can be applied to many different areas of our lives.

Today’s class had moved up a level. I hadn’t danced salsa since last year and there I was constantly apologising to every dance partner I had in Rueda de Casino (a Cuban circle dance) for ‘not knowing what I’m doing’ or getting something wrong. Most of them just smiled politely back at me. Some of the time I think I got the moves right and still said “sorry!”. Comically, when I knew I got it right I’d be like “yes, wahoo!”. Some didn’t respond, some did on occasion with a nervous smile or simpler still, they just didn’t care or notice. Perhaps they were dancing for fun or themselves and not for mythical perfection.

Ah dear. I have to laugh at myself. I almost didn’t go as I couldn’t find the building and I could feel my anxious mind closing in on me worrying about being late and lost and my low mind telling me it’s not worth it anyway, blaming me, and just making me feel not good enough.

Nether the less I went. I smiled a lot, half in disbelief I’d challenged myself so much and was taking part at such a level in something “I’m not good at” but perhaps I am actually, dare I say it, okay. Maybe, it doesn’t even matter. I go for me. Whatever reasons I push myself and I go. Then I feel good thanks to lovely special things called endorphins, so why oh why does my mind put me through such agony prior, when post is 90% so good?

My stomach was clenched for a big part of the lesson as from the beginning I didn’t feel ready to progress to the next level but

when do we ever feel ready? What even is it? In work life? Love life? Everyone’s ‘ready’ is different.

Despite these nerves (healthy nerves!) throughout the whole class, part of me was just really proud I stuck with it and oddly but beautifully enough, I even had self love for the apologetic nervous person that I am.

The point for me was that I tried. I’m trying and I’m doing. I’m also being me. Not hiding behind a persona. Allowing my vulnerable self to surface no matter how uncomfortable. I do this in friendships and with colleagues too. Shout out to my colleague for saying she’s glad she has access to the ‘full me’.

I may not always be able to show these sides. Sometimes anxiety and low mood / depression may also fully take over altogether but when I can, I will. I’m learning to accept these parts of me and half the time people don’t even notice and it’s me judging me. Sound familiar? We’re not alone folks!

Let’s think about how this can be applied to other areas of our lives too:

Earlier last year I was invited to be on a panel for a mental health charity that took place this month. I even emailed the organisation closer to the time to check they actually wanted me.

“Me? Why me?! Surely not, me?” my negative voice would bellow.

Low self esteem can eat away at us when we struggle with negative thoughts and it can all feel like such a fight, sometimes daily, to try to alter and challenge our usual thinking patterns.

Just last week I did the panel. I loved it too.

I’m on a journey with this ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ attitude where I won’t always be able to follow through with action but I would gently encourage that, whatever it is you’re scared of yet deep down you want to try despite not feeling ‘ready’, perhaps it’s worth a try. Also to think – what’s the worst than can happen? Will this matter next week? Next month? Year?

The comfort zone battle and moving beyond resonates with many but can especially be a challenge for those living with mental health issues.

Sometimes we need to put safety first and the comfort zone is needed. That’s fine. Essential at times. There’s been times in my experience the struggles and weight of depression and anxiety had the power to zap the ability to try something new out of us due to its aggressive ways of putting us down.

I got to a point last year where I was so bored of my self care > to active ‘living my life’ ratio because I fell in states of poor mental health, which, whilst positive in terms of the self care, made me miss the thrill, the sensations of normal nerves. The thrill of trying something new and putting myself out there past my comfort zone.

I recently listened to this podcast on our discomfort zone and it really helped. So, if you’re curious and something is niggling at you, perhaps take the leap and give it a try! Whatever it is. Try to laugh at yourself too if it doesn’t work out and love yourself for at least trying! Or if what you can manage is your comfort zone for now, that’s perfectly fine too!

Love always,

Abs x 💛

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