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I’ve always been someone pretty happy to rely on comfort zones. It makes sense, as kids one of the basic things we cling to is a feeling of safety. That’s what forms the basis of attachment, and so it’s not really surprising that nothing changes as an adult. We still drift to the familiar and the people and experiences and places that we feel keep us safe.

It can feel pretty daunting to make that first step outside of your comfort zone. For many reasons. Maybe it’s because you think it means detaching yourself from someone or something, or maybe it’s because you’ve relied on it for so long you actually aren’t entirely sure what your comfort zone is until you leave it. 

And that’s why, no matter how difficult it is, you have to. At their very core, comfort zones are actually nothing more than a state of mind where you feel comfortable. They aren’t as much a physical matter as an emotional one. The first step to being able to grow, is figuring out how to step outside of the mentality that comfort zones do keep you safe.

Because this is just a ruse. What they really do is limit you. By defining something or someone as the place where you feel comforted, you are excluding the rest of the world to feelings of fear and negativity, and this doesn’t allow you to let any change in, even if it’s the healthy kind. The truth is, fear is one of the most necessary feelings that exists. It isn’t something you should want to run away from. 

I’m definitely someone who’s afraid of the unknown, and I think that’s because you grow up learning that the unknown is this scary abyss with a big ‘do not enter’ sign hanging over it. But more than that, you are conditioned to believe that fear is a negative emotion, which really undermines all the richness and strength there is in it. Because that feeling of being scared, requires you to counterbalance it. It requires you to use courage, and be brave, and that is the most powerful antidote to comfort zones I’ve found so far.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase before: Do one thing every day that scares you.I can’t exactly remember where I first heard it, and I wish I could say I implemented it every day, but I don’t. I do sometimes think about it when I’m faced with a decision and don’t know what to do though. Sometimes reminding yourself that fear can have positive connotations is the push you need to make the scarier choice, and step over that block in the road in your mind.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I always approached the idea of leaving comfort zones as something very physical, and maybe this is why it all seemed so difficult to do. It goes back to the idea of childhood attachment and separation anxiety, that feeling of sheer anxiousness and distress when you are apart from the things you feel like you need to be okay. The thing is though, we always learned in Psychology (for the one year I took it before I realised I’m not scientifically gifted) that this is a necessary stage. Once again, it isn’t a bad feeling, and it’s not a reason to turn back and tuck yourself into your safe space again.

So maybe it’s more a matter of reprogramming the thought process around this safe space instead. Learning that: 

  1. Comfort zones aren’t something physical really. They are a place in your head that is easiest to rest in.
  2. Just because something is easiest, doesn’t mean it is good for you.
  3. Fear is not something to be afraid of. It’s healthy, and natural and the only feeling that really truly tells you which direction to go in.

For me, I think I’ve started to learn that testing my comfort zones isn’t actually a matter of actually leaving anything. It isn’t just learning to do things independently, or embracing a big move, or physically changing my life. It is actually more about learning to be active, rather than stagnant. To confront fear, in small steps, by just saying to myself: this is the best thing to be feeling right now.

If you’re not just the littlest bit frightened by the choice you’re making, chances are you aren’t making the right choice. You’re making the safe one. And this isn’t going to get to you anywhere in the long run at all. 

So, I think I’m going to try and start living by a new saying instead. One that feels easier, and more realistic to handle. You don’t have to actively do something every single day that scares the sh*t out of you, but every time you’re faced with something, simply make the decision that makes your heart beat that little bit faster. It’ll be worth it eventually. 

Anna Young

Stony Brook '20

Hi! I’m an Exchange Student from England, here at Stony Brook for a year abroad! I’m a junior, and my major is Drama and English.
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