Change Is Stressful

If anyone hasn’t got the memo yet, the news is out: the world is changing, and quickly.

Change is stressful to the body and mind, even when that change is taking a person in a better direction. That stress is a sign of the body’s resistance to change and it is experienced as discomfort. Conditions in this world are always changing, slow or fast, predictably or not, favorable or not, and when conditions inside or outside of a person change, they must change with it, they must adapt or face even more stressful, and therefore more uncomfortable consequences.

As I’ve noted before, humans are uniquely able to adapt to changing conditions and it is our super-survival ability among all other creatures. Yet facing change and its discomfort is the one thing humans tend to whine about the most. I don’t push this concept because I am trying to make people tough and ignore the stress; I advocate for the acceptance of change and a readiness to adapt because it is a strength that will serve survival, health, and flourishing in a world that will wear and tear us down otherwise.

There are many changes in life we cannot prepare for directly, and those changes that are suddenly imposed and take us away from an enjoyable state are the hardest to bear. But we can practice and strengthen our ability to change by voluntarily taking up activities, exercises and practices that regularly require us to face challenge, to change, to adapt and to grow. Though engaging in difficult recreational activity is not the same as dealing with death, disease or natural disaster, much of the skill and strength we gain from those activities can transfer over and give us internal support in a crisis that would not be within us otherwise.

 

Expose Yourself To Discomfort

One simple but powerful approach for increasing your adaptability, your change-ability, is to regularly expose yourself to discomfort in a meaningful way. The idea is to do something slightly uncomfortable so often that it becomes normalized and therefore relatively comfortable compared to how it used to feel. The discomfort can be made ‘meaningful’ by having it relate to something that promotes your skills or abilities in the recreational activity you are doing.

For example, you can practice adapting (changing) and normalizing the discomfort in your fitness lifestyle by:

  • Restricting the hours in which you eat
  • Eating simple, plain whole foods, with less and less spice or embellishment
  • Getting up extra early to do a meaningful activity
  • Regularly dipping or showering in cold water
  • Sitting still and quietly, without reaction to stimulation
  • Going out to exercise in unpleasant weather
  • Sustaining exercise motion for an uncomfortable duration
  • Engaging in exercise at an uncomfortable (but safe) intensity
  • Refraining from external stimulation (devices) for extraordinary lengths of time
  • Doing an activity it less-than-ideal conditions

 

Photo by Laya Clode on Unsplash

Dosage Of Discomfort

You would do the activity in a way that takes you a little ways into the discomfort zone (which should not be an injury zone). You would do this frequently enough during the week, for many weeks or months until it becomes normalized. In other words, you would take small, frequent doses of discomfort and do this long enough to notice that you just don’t mind it any more. Then you can go a bit farther in the same area or a new one.

Not only will your body be making physical adaptations to the stress which lead to normalization and relative comfort, your body will be making psychological adaptations – your thinking and emotional experience around the challenges of that activity will improve. What previously seemed a little crazy for others to do will become normal for you too, even enjoyable. By making incremental changes, over months you could find yourself able to do things and accept things that seemed out of reach before. You gain physical strength, psychological strength and even social strength (i.e. the ability to be strong for others). This approach has you tap into many well-being promoting concepts in self-determination theory, hope theory, learned optimism, growth mindset and resilience.

 

Strength For Making Changes

The world is going to force us to change. We will either try to resist and be worn down by it, or we, with effort, respond to the changing world and direct our own adaptations in a positive direction. By putting in this intentional effort, by facing discomfort and practicing voluntary changes we can gain some strength to handle involuntary changes too. It’s not the total solution to the suffering we might experience in those involuntary change situations, but it can help us deal with them a lot better.

In this world, if we resist change, if we are only seeking how to stay comfortable, that comfort zone will gradually shrink and it will get harder and harder to do so. In order to keep the comfort zone we have, we have to keep pushing back on the uncomfortable boundaries. To expand our comfort zone, we have to push back even more. To remain comfortable, we must have a healthy diet of discomfort in our life too. 

So, the message here is for us to embrace, even pursue a regular dose of ordinary discomfort in order to expand our comfort zone and build a more resilient person. The world is changing and it invites us to change with it and grow… or ignore the invitation, languish and suffer more.

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