Jenna Behrens is a licensed professional counselor who has been practicing in the mental health field for seven years. She owns Behrens Psychotherapy Services, LLC which has four office locations around the Milwaukee area. She works with children, adolescents, families, and adults on a wide array of issues including depression, anxiety, ADHD, childhood behavioral disorders, adjustment disorders, stress and parenting.
Recently I have been witnessing, participating in, and reading a lot about this idea of getting out of your comfort zone. In therapy, it's something I talk with clients about regularly. Trying new things to get out of the emotional rut they are in or trying something new or that they've been avoiding as a type of exposure therapy to decrease their anxiety. This idea isn't new to me, but I began to wonder how often I actually do this. I am a pretty routine person. If you ask my husband, he would say I'm about 99% predictable. I always have been, even as a child. I like to be on time, I keep my word, I like a routine life, and having a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly plan. It feels good to me. I can't think of too many situations that I avoid due to anxiety, not to say that I never suffer from anxiety. I used to be incredibly anxious meeting with new clients especially if I felt they were intellectually superior to me. It was never a choice to avoid this because it wasn't an option for my practice to fail. So, I pushed through and dealt with whatever emotions came up. Eventually, I got over it. I realized that they were there to see me because what they had been doing hasn't been working so I must hold some information they don't have.
I have been reading "The Tools" by Stutz and Michels. They talk about this idea that to get out of our comfort zone, we have to get through the fear and the possibilities are endless. If we avoid the fear, we never get to the endless possibilities and we stay in our comfort zone and waste our life and potential. This made a lot of sense. When I talk with clients who are avoiding or anxious I always ask "What are you afraid of?" Sometimes the answer comes easily and sometimes we have to dig a little, but there is always fear. Fear of failure, rejection, judgement, etc.
So this idea of coming out of your confort zone popped up again in a big way when I realized my sister was training for the Ironman Triathlon consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bicycle ride, and a marathon (26.2 mile run). She would mention she's training for a triathlon and I wouldn't really pay much attention to it. I'm not an athletic person so I had no idea what that really meant. I remember one day telling her a story my yoga instructor told about Ironmen trying yoga and having a difficult time and my sister said "That's what I'm training for." Huh??? So that's when it hit me. My sister, who played tennis and swam in high school but wouldn't really consider herself very athletic is going WAY out of her comfort zone and is going to do the Ironman. When I say out of her comfort zone, I don't just mean athletically, I mean busting through all sorts of anxiety. So she did! She completed the Ironman on September 8th and it was a joyous and tearful thing to see her accomplish! Still so incredibly proud of her.
After this, I decided I needed to finally take the step that I had been wanting to take for awhile. I became vegetarian (well, 95% because giving up the occasional fish fry or crab legs would be too restrictive). I've lasted about 3 weeks and it has felt great. I have become a more mindful eater and am proving to myself that I can do something that I perceived to be very difficult with not much difficulty at all. I had avoided doing this before because I thought it would be too hard. My husband needs meat with every meal so I knew it would mean we would have to make changes when we made dinner basically making sure he could add meat to whatever vegetarian dish I was eating. I was also nervous about what my friends and family would say. The question is always "Why are you doing this? Health reasons or because of the cruelty to animals issue?" It was kind of neither for me and I didn't really want to hear everyone's opinion. I wanted to do this because I was a very impulsive eater. I would eat fast food frequently which was starting to catch up with me the older I am becoming. I wanted to be more mindful about what I was putting in my mouth and I knew if I had to think "Does this have meat in it?" I would be paying more attention. It has certainly worked and I couldn't be happier with my choice.
So, I am challenging all of my readers to get out of their comfort zone whether it's joining a recreational department class to meet new friends or trying a new sport or haircut or going out and doing something alone. Imagine the worst case scenario, how you would feel if that actually came true, ask yourself how likely it is that the worst case scenario will come true, take some deep breaths, tell yourself you can handle any feeling that come up and then GO DO IT!