Is our comfort zone making us depressed and anxious?

comfort zone

Has anyone noticed that in the last 12-18 months we've all become a little too comfortable? That doesn't mean comfortable in your skin (which is a good thing) but rather comfortable as in working from home, pyjamas and loungewear all day, hopping to the fridge every 10 minutes and too many Netflix binge nights.

Simple pleasures can be a wholesome response to difficult times, but on a deeper level, the epidemic of 'easy and 'convenient' is really just one giant step into a human's increasing need for comfort and increasing dislike for challenge and self-improvement (which is hard).

Many health professionals have connected many physical and emotional health issues (anxiety, depression, feeling stuck) to 'living inside your comfort zone'.

comfort zone

Your comfort zone can be a dangerous place. It can prevent you from improving, it can stop you from accomplishing all the things you can achieve and quite frankly, usually makes us miserable.

Award winning-journalist Micheal Easter travelled around the world to interview experts on human discomfort. These people ranged from Harvard scientists to Buddhist lamas to Special Forces soldiers. The kind of folk who research, and sometimes personally experience the maybe not so surprising benefits of discomfort. Easter did this to research content for his book, The Comfort Crisis.

comfort zone

If you read this book, you'll never think the same again! Here are some of the challenges he recommends if you want to embrace change and get ‘uncomfortable:

Challenge 1: Go hungry! The comfort we get when we eat is an evolutionary mechanism that kept us alive many years ago. Our ancestors practised intermittent fasting with either feasting or famine. When there was food available, they ate; when they didn’t have food, they didn’t eat. That's it! They couldn’t run to McDonald’s or heat up a frozen meal. So next time you feel peckish, allow yourself to experience that feeling for a while. Research reveals that going periods sans food can speed up a process called autophagy. Priya Khorana, PhD in Nutrition Education from Columbia University explains autophagylike this: it's the body's way of wiping out damaged cells, to regenerate newer, healthier cells. These cells are sometimes associated with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic inflammation, and higher blood sugar and cholesterol. “Auto” means self and “phagy” means eat. So, the real definition of autophagy is “self-eating. “This is where intermittent fasting comes into effect. Giving your body a break from constantly digesting food can greatly reduce the risk of chronic disease! 

Challenge 2: Leave the heater off this winter- Turning down the heating may assist with long-term weight loss by increasing your brown fat SO long as you're not recompensing by overeating. Researchers in the Netherlands discovered that cool temperatures can elevate our metabolism anywhere from a few per cent to a huge 30 per cent! This helps cut down on obesity. Their tips: Lower your thermostat during cold weather by 3 to 4 degrees each week. This slowly accelerates your comfort zone, allowing your body to adjust without needless misery. Stop once you’re at about 18 degrees, the optimal zone, according to the researchers.

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Challenge 3: Don't reach for the remote! In this new, modern world noise is everywhere. Utter silence is usually only experienced in a yoga class or your shrink's office. We have increased the overall noise in the world eightfold. We are so uncomfortable in silence that even at home, we usually have the tv on in the background. Silence makes us think, and we don't like to think. However, sitting quietly can have a huge impact, and quickly! One study noted that just two minutes of silence led to big drops in blood pressure. The issue is that noise makes our brains release stress hormones. This is because of how our brains were wired in ancient generations: loud sounds signalled incoming danger. So, less TV and less noise, in general, is good for overall mental health and lowers blood pressure.

Challenge 4: Get outdoors and get active! The average American spends 93 per cent of his or her time in enclosed buildings or vehicles. On top of that, we have cars and escalators, basically eradicating physical activity from our lives. However, the convenience may be making us ill and more prone to chronic illnesses. According to an analysis of more than 1,200 studies conducted, adding just 150 minutes of moderate activity such as brisk walking or hiking can reduce our risk of dying prematurely by a whopping 30 per cent! So, take the stairs, carry your groceries, ride your bike to work and walk during your lunch break! The big reward for these efforts is lower stress levels and more oxygen in your brain leading to higher dopamine levels.

Challenge 5: Change up your friend circle! “Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” — Amy Poehler. Amy couldn't have said it better. This is a tricky one but a very crucial factor if you want to change your life. It all comes down to the people in our lives. Only they have the incredible ability to make us very happy or incomprehensibly miserable. We spend more time thinking about people than anything else. So, if you are hanging around people who bring you down, then you're most likely to feel down. Nevertheless, if you hang around people who lift you up, then you'll feel motivated to go out there and achieve more. Need we say more?

comfort zone

Challenge 6: Change up YOUR daily ROUTINE! Over the centuries, the human brain has evolved to embrace a routine because it’s safe and predictable. But continuing a seemingly mundane routine for a long time gets your brain comfortable and lazy. It knows what to expect and therefor functions at a lower capacity. For example, if we have outgrown our jobs, we dread work and tend to zone out each day. If we have a job that challenges us, we tend to approach the day with excitement and our brain senses this and we tend to perform better because the brain is alert. Scientists at the University of Michigan say that 'Lifelong learning may even fight Alzheimer’s and dementia.' Let's practice doing or learning something new every single day, and in the meantime, we'll lower our dementia risk. We should be continually learning in our lives. Keeping our brains active is as important as keeping our bodies active.

If we try to incorporate these small changes in our everyday lives, we can experience great change and begin to feel more fulfilled and happier. Try incorporating at least one new activity every day and watch your life transform!

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