Most people I’ve heard talk about their comfort zone have always spoken about it in a negative manner. They talk as if comfort zones are something to be completely removed from your life because they put limitations on one’s ability to achieve or because being comfortable with life means not living at all.
A phrase I have heard — and believed — until this point in my life is “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Entering into treatment for my depression and eating disorder was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life and forced me out of my comfort zone.
I can say with certainty my life began anew once I entered treatment.
So there is truth to the idea of life beginning at the end of a comfort zone. Now as I make my way through a new season of life, I find myself comfortable again and yet, I still feel fully alive. This current comfort zone does not seem to fit into the connotation I’ve always associated with comfort zones.
Does this mean there are different types of comfort zones, both good ones and bad ones?
If I look at my past comfort zone, my pre-treatment one, I can objectively discern I was living an empty half-life. Although I see how miserable and non-existent my life was then, I still crave that comfort zone sometimes. I’ve read and heard a lot about people missing their depression once they get on the right medications and in therapy because depression can feel safe and comfortable — anything can once you become used to it.
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Humans crave routine. In order to get out of my comfort zone of depression, I had to develop a new routine, which was very uncomfortable at the start. But routines can quickly become comfortable, and thus, my new, healthier comfort zone developed.
My healthy comfort zone is opposite my depression-controlled one.
My healthy comfort zone looks like creating schedules and lists and crossing things off and getting through each day hour by hour. It sounds like “I’m having a bad day. Can you go on a walk with me/eat with me/just sit with me?” It tastes like nourishment and my favorite coffee and lots of chocolate. It smells like fresh air, coconut shampoo, and lavender laundry detergent. It feels like being self-compassionate in reminding myself I am doing the best I can, and it feels like struggle.
This comfort zone feels like hell sometimes, but other times, it feels like life.
My healthy comfort zone does not ignore my depression, but acknowledges its constant presence. It is fluid, adjusting each day to my mental and emotional needs in the moment. This comfort zone involves finding what best helps me to function without overwhelming myself; it involves knowing my limits.
Maintaining this healthy comfort zone is exhausting because I find myself fighting against my depression and the easy comfort it promises. It’s similar to being out in the surf at the ocean. When a wave comes, you can either fight against the wave’s strength and go further out to sea or you can let yourself be pushed in toward shore. It can be tiring to constantly fight against the waves. When the waves become too large, you might even let them push you toward shore so you have strength to make your way out into deeper water again.
There are times when I allow waves of my depression to direct which comfort zone I engage in–when I am out of strength, I let myself drift backward toward my unhealthy comfort zone, sometimes by watching Netflix for an afternoon, other times by sleeping away the day. When I do this, I set limits or ask another person set limits for me so my depression doesn’t take over full-force and I don’t end up all the way back on the shore, allowing myself to live more permanently in my unhealthy comfort zone.
The main difference between my healthy comfort zone and my unhealthy comfort zone is who or what is in charge of and motivating my day.
My unhealthy comfort zone makes depression my dictator, whereas my healthy comfort zone earns me victory over my depression.
Staying stuck in my unhealthy, ineffective comfort zone drains my life, while my healthy comfort zone is life-giving. When I live in my healthy, effective comfort zone, I am able to live life more fully and experience things that are new and amazing. I am able to travel to foreign places, to visit friends I care deeply about, to laugh until my stomach hurts.
My life didn’t begin the moment I stepped out of my comfort zone. It began the moment I found myself a new, healthier one.
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