Being Comfortable With Discomfort
Jay M. Greenfeld, Ph.D., C. Psych
As summer appeared to race by as flashy as the many lightning storms that emerged, with extremely hot days and frequent rain storms, we are on the brink of yet another school year. Finally, after a few years of the school year protocol being uncertain, it appears as though there is some degree of normalcy going into the Fall academic campaign. There is less of an emphasis on extreme COVID protocols and less of a risk that children will be calling home with light symptoms to be given a free pass to go home. The students are returning in full force over the coming days and it means it is time to feel the excitement of a new school year, a change in the season, and the ever so common -- feelings of discomfort that so many experience at this time of year. The truth is many children, adolescents, and adults experience discomfort in multiple facets of life which can often lead to high levels of stress (both physically and emotionally) and significant levels of Anxiety. The most common response to discomfort is to prevent it by avoiding it. However, avoiding discomfort whether that be with friends, family, work, or school only creates more challenges in the long-term.
It is becoming more apparent that children and adults feel a greater sense of discomfort by engaging in many tasks or situations that are less common in 2022, so when they need to, they do whatever they can to avoid it. Temporarily, it is great, you do not feel the awkwardness, the shyness, the lack of control, and fear, but it does not allow for any space to grow. Taking advantage of the moments of discomfort presents itself with a grand opportunity to grow at any stage of life. A lot of people, regardless of age, love routine and consistency, but as soon as that changes, the discomfort increases exponentially. The benefits of experiencing discomfort push children and adults to overcome many of their thoughts that lead to the initial uncomfortable feelings. It is often our bodies sending signals to our brain that we feel some degree of physical discomfort which then leads our minds to decode that message that we need to avoid those situations all the time. Instead of avoidance, confront the discomfort in all facets of life. Gaining the strength and skillset to confront discomfort can lead to a sense of empowerment for new experiences, situations, and interactions.
Aside from engaging in any form of meditation and relaxation exercises to physically settle nerves the body may be feeling with discomfort in situations, the next step is to challenge your thinking about those situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Our feelings help colour our experiences, largely based on what we think in those situations. What we think about certain situations will dictate how we feel. Therefore, if we cannot change the situations (e.g., required in-class public speaking, job interviews, new friends, confronting grief and loss, exploring dating partners, test taking etc.), we can change how we think about those situations. By changing our thoughts, we can alter our feelings and then make it much more likely that we will be willing to engage in the situations that may make us feel uncomfortable.
The next phase is practice. Practice being in the situations that create discomfort as much as possible. Part of the reason why so many people continue to feel the discomfort they experience is because they are not exposed to the situations that create that feeling, often enough or they merely avoid it. Therefore, encourage your children and yourselves as parents to confront the situations that create discomfort. If you feel some sense of discomfort just by thinking about situations, that is your sign those are the circumstances you need to confront. Unfortunately, the easiest response to discomfort is turn to the option that does not ask you any questions, places you in are full control, and boundaries are limitless ñ the internet or any type of video games. The more we lend ourselves to screens, the less likely our children are to confront the activating events that create discomfort. When you notice your child is feeling anxious, a sense of discomfort, or simply avoiding certain situations, explore their thoughts with them and start to challenge their thinking by reframing the way they label those experiences. Instead of letting them repress their feelings and escape to some form of screen time to falsely and temporarily ease the discomfort, engage in the experiencing of overcoming the uncomfortable feelings.
Regardless of age, continue to practice the art of being comfortable with being uncomfortable. So that when the situations arise both you and your children will not freeze up, will not look another way, or will not avoid the engagement altogether. Explore the experiences and potential situations that prompt discomfort and encourage your children to confront those challenges as a means of growth, change, and improvement of their psychological well-being. There are too many experiences and topics of conversation in our world that can create a sense of discomfort. To help maximize your children's growth and truly add colour to their world, expose them to the aspects in life that may initially make them feel uncomfortable only to lead them down a path of more comfort in any new experience in their lives.
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