Considering the “Comfort Zone” in Chaotic Times

Considering the “Comfort Zone” in Chaotic Times

By Wendy Kinal

TW: mention of death, medical trauma, anxiety and PTSD, the COVID-19 pandemic, chronic illness discussion

A bit about me before I begin. 

Who I am: An Instructor-in-Training with IMPACT Personal Safety of Colorado. A person who lives with Crohn’s Disease, generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD. Someone whose passion is to move, but also to rest. A trainer/facilitator/teacher who loves helping others feel more empowered by moving their bodies. I have done some trauma-informed work in clinical settings and through Impact.

Who I am not: A trauma intervention expert. A licensed mental health professional.

The belief about the need to step out of our comfort zone has been something that I have been sitting with recently, and as I write this, I want to recognize that I speak about this topic as someone who navigates having a chronic illness, and who is also living, like everyone at the moment I am writing this, through a global pandemic. And who is helping people move through it as well.

Besides my work with IPSCO, I am also a Certified Personal Trainer and movement instructor, who did a 180 nearly a year ago (Or maybe a 90?), created a new income stream, and took my training online, when all of my other in-person work disappeared due to the pandemic.

I put it out to friends that if they were feeling a bit stuck and needed some motivation to move around, that I could help them and, most importantly, that I would meet them where they were at.

I see a lot of talk in the fitness/movement industry and in the Denver/Boulder area, where I live, about “getting out of your comfort zone.” I see it in “wellness” posts by certain organizations and practitioners –some of whom have done the work to acknowledge systemic issues and how that might affect someone’s health and wellness, and some  who have not. Getting out of your comfort zone can be a wonderful thing sometimes, especially in a situation like in an Impact class, where a certain amount of safety is created to facilitate moving you into an adrenalized state, or when working with other trained professionals, or even with a trusted friend – AND, most importantly, when it’s the right time for YOU to experience said departure from the “comfort zone.”

However, there are times and places where talk of the comfort zone almost feels like a moot point. A  Neuroscience grad student, Sarah Myers, who wrote an article I read recently, even posits that the advice to get outside of the comfort zone may even be a bad idea for some people.  

What if you are a survivor of trauma?  What if you  are someone who has never even had something one might consider a comfort zone? Or, what if you are someone like me, who has areas of life where I do feel comfort, but other areas where I have never found it (for me, especially in medical situations)?  I asked some other movement practitioners/trainers recently, “Well, what if you have always been uncomfortable? Then what is comfort?” 

This is  especially prevalent NOW. Everything has changed, at such an enormous level. I would say that even the most balanced among us right now have not been left unscathed by the change in routine, the constantly updated information, the fear of contracting the virus, and of the fear of death itself. 

Seeking comfort is absolutely ok, anytime, and especially right now. I am trying to hold space for my movement clients, where they can move in ways that feel good for them. I am happy to help them “reach their goals” if that’s helpful to them, and I am equally happy to also not set lofty goals and to just be there, be human, and listen to what’s going on, in both the literal and figurative sense. To breathe, to move, to try and feel what it  means to be in a body here on Earth, in this moment. And in the fitness/movement world, there is other good work being done to address the various needs of a variety of people, that is trying to discover how exercise could help them best. 

There are so many factors linked to the avoidance of pleasure and comfort, or to the push to PUSH, from capitalism to patriarchal structures, and more. And there are real-life needs we and our loved ones have that demand some compromise – sometimes we have to push, because…we have to. I don’t think this is an easy topic to which I can end with some words of advice that will deliver any guaranteed solution. 

I think, in the end I wanted to say, it’s ok to rest. It’s ok to not know what a comfort zone is or even to have one. 

It’s also ok to “get outside” your comfort zone if that gives you pleasure or joy or challenge. 

All I ask is that you consider all the myriad of stories that live out in the world amongst our community of humans, and that perhaps when offering advice –  to both ourselves and to others –  it could be: “stay in that comfort zone as long as you like or need” or “can I be of support in some way to help you find your way to one?”