Many of the problems we face in life are related to the fear of discomfort and the desire to get rid of it as soon as possible. It is not strange if we consider that our society has been structured around comfort, turning it into an absolute value and a priority.
As a result, we believe that we must feel comfortable at all times, so that if we experience any uncomfortable situation we think that something is wrong, we convince ourselves that it is not “right” or that things have gone wrong. However, the truth is that sooner rather than later discomfort will knock on our door, so we must be prepared to make room for it in our lives.
Trying to escape discomfort only makes things worse. It is a boomerang that turns against us making us feel even more uncomfortable as we add more negative emotions to the mix, such as frustration, disappointment or fear. Before we know it, we will be drawn into a spiral of continuous struggle from which it will be increasingly difficult to escape.
The fence that discomfort tends us
Feeling uncomfortable is not exactly feeling an intense pain, but rather a more or less subtle but persistent feeling of discomfort that occurs when we are outside of our comfort zone. Obviously, the smaller our comfort zone is, the more uncomfortable we will feel because a greater number of situations will be foreign to us and will affect our balance.
In general, we feel uncomfortable when we face situations for which we are not prepared, when we do not have a script to follow or lack the necessary confidence in our abilities to adapt to new circumstances. Discomfort is, deep down, a feeling of inadequacy or being out of place.
However, if we spend much of our time running away from discomfort, we limit ourselves to a smaller and smaller comfort zone. For example, if we have always been sedentary, the idea of exercising makes us uncomfortable and leads us to live a more harmful lifestyle. If we are afraid of rejection or failure, we will avoid exposing ourselves to situations that decrease our chances of success, but that would also allow us to move forward.
For that reason, the more we ignore and reject discomfort, the more we hurt ourselves and the more opportunities we deny ourselves to grow and expand our limits. In the end, what is difficult to manage and accept is not discomfort, but our reactions to the feelings and thoughts that it triggers.
When we resist discomfort, we make it persistent as we cling to what would otherwise have become just annoying moments. This is how we close the cycle: by fleeing from discomfort we end up reinforcing it.
3 steps to stop running away from discomfort and embrace it – once and for all
1. Do not indulge in emotional avoidance
Emotional avoidance occurs when we refuse to become aware of our emotions, so instead of accepting the discomfort, we reject or ignore it. Instead of acknowledging that we feel uncomfortable giving a public speech, we make excuses to avoid it, and when we feel uncomfortable with an argument, we shy away from it.
However, avoiding painful emotions is an attempt to disguise the problems. It’s like sweeping dust under the rug. We may not see it, but it is there, creating a surreptitious tension.
For that reason, to deal with discomfort we must first stop fearing it and be willing to experience it. We must pay attention to what we feel and think when discomfort occurs, to understand why we try to flee from that situation.
In fact, for getting comfortable being uncomfortable we must immerse ourselves in it. The solution is to give ourselves a small “discomfort bath” from time to time, so that this experience stops being so annoying.
2. Start seeing discomfort as a messenger
The idea that we must feel comfortable at all times feeds unrealistic expectations and creates a revulsion towards discomfort. Undoubtedly, feeling uncomfortable is not pleasant, but it is not the end of the world either.
There is an alternative way to deal with discomfort: acknowledge it, accept it, and understand it. Instead of fighting it as if it were our worst enemy, we can see it as a messenger. Our sensations – both good and bad – are nothing more than vital messages.
Discomfort is telling us that we are in a condition that causes us discomfort or tension. It is not a signal to escape – as we mistakenly assume – but just a warning. It is up to us how to deal with this situation.
If we run away to avoid discomfort, we won’t get over it and will probably feel increasingly uncomfortable in a wider range of situations. On the other hand, if we face it, our comfort zone will expand and discomfort will disappear. When we investigate its source and understand the message it is trying to convey to us, we are able to respond more appropriately to discomfort.
3. Learn to live in the present moment
“The art of living through a difficult situation does not consist, on the one hand, in carelessly adrift or, on the other, in fearfully clinging to the past and the known. It consists of being completely sensitive to each moment, seeing it as new and unique, having an open and receptive mind”, wrote Alan Watts.
When we cultivate the awareness of the present moment, we learn to experience the world directly, through our experience, without the relentless commentary of the negative thoughts that are always running through our minds and often make a storm in a teacup.
Learning to discern thoughts from reality is important. If we feel discomfort without adding judgments, we will be able to manage it better. Discomfort is more bearable without all those subtitles that our mind adds.
Living in the present and taking things minute by minute will help us. In this way we learn to see discomfort as simple events that appear and disappear – like clouds in the sky – to avoid getting caught in their webs or fleeing in terror.
Learning to feel comfortable in discomfort will give us the possibility to transform and grow. We must try to understand where it comes from and what limits it is pointing out to us. Therefore, instead of trying to lock ourselves in comfortable glass bells that sooner or later life will break, we should go out and challenge discomfort until it loses part of its influence on us.
That does not mean that we will become immune to discomfort, but that we will regain control in those situations to decide how to respond, instead of just reacting out of fear and discomfort of the moment. Without a doubt, it is worth sacrificing a little momentary pleasure and well-being for the certainty that we will have greater balance, well-being and happiness in the long term.