How are you, my fellow Fear-Busters?  It’s my hope that you’re taking some useful information away from this blog and my discussion of the basics of the Fear Mastery map I’ve developed in the last year.  I know from my own brutal experience with anxiety and fear just how life-draining doing battle with these issues can be, and my whole goal with this writing and work is to make those tools as accessible and useful as possible.

Because make no mistake, if a person’s fears/worries have reached the Comfort Zone it is going to be something of a battle to deal with them.  I had the opportunity to discuss this work around Fear Mastery with a class group I teach last week, and some very specific terms surfaced in that discussion:

Constrictive:  The Comfort Zone is always driving us to more safety.  So, metaphorically speaking, it tends to want to keep pushing you away from danger.  As a result your personal zone of safety tends to shrink.  Yikes!  Every person on the planet has experienced this in one way or another.  We were comfortable doing something two years ago, but we’ve been away from it for a while, and it was a little unnerving when we used to do it, so now it’s become downright uncomfortable during the time gap.  We find reasons not to go back to it, whatever it was, and the Comfort Zone continues its slow constriction.  A classic example is when an elderly person falls and breaks a bone.  What seemed OK before now seems scary, and the great temptation is to avoid that behavior that got us hurt in the first place – and the Comfort Zone constricts.  We even have a cultural expression for pushing back on that constriction – “get back on the horse.”  Most of us however don’t, and so something that was once not risky now seems so.  And of course we get REALLY good at explaining the constriction, to ourselves and others.  And while not all of our reasons are bad, the end result often is – we have a decreased range of motion in our lives.  Which in turn makes the Comfort Zone:

Restrictive:  The Comfort Zone will literally wall us off from activities, options for choice, movement, you name it.  As I mentioned in the last post the Comfort Zone is much like a series of machine-gun emplacements, and you’re on the wrong side of the guns!  You can often “see” the thing you’d like to do, or feel you need to do, just beyond the barrier of the Comfort Zone, but you don’t feel like you can engage that behavior or do that thing you’d like to do.  Your options have shrunk, and you might even report to other people that you can’t do this, or you’re unable to do that.  When, of course, you CAN – you just don’t feel safe doing it.

Evasive:  As I mentioned in the last post here the Comfort Zone works very hard to keep you from confronting your fears, and so you are easily distracted/pulled away when you consider confronting your Comfort Zone boundaries.  In a very real sense the Comfort Zone is evading your thinking – trying to fade from view so you don’t feel anxious or fearful.  Think of how effective, and how insidious, such a protective mechanism is!  I have sat through a dozen conversations in the last 3 weeks alone where someone one day sees something they’d like to challenge in their Comfort Zone restrictions, only to, often only days later, decide not to, or forget to, or explain why they can’t.  It’s impressive, and a little scary.  As I’ve said before, challenging the Comfort Zone takes some energy and effort – and often repeated attempts to change the boundaries we’ve worked so hard to create.

None of this sounds like very good news, I know.  A number of people I’m working with and talking with at the moment express very similar frustrations with the restricted, constricted feeling they have around specific fears in their lives, and they want their freedom.  It is in fact this sense of constriction and lack of freedom that I believe leads directly to Panic Attacks and depression both.  How long can hope be sustained in the face of feeling trapped?  And what person wants to be trapped?   This isn’t a small thing to think about.  We have entire industries that are focused on attempting to relieve people’s anxiety and depression, mostly through medication, when what people need more than any other single thing is a sense of agency in the face of their fears.  Medication is highly useful, no question about that – but its use is around giving people breathing space, a chance to step away from the crushing physical and emotional drain of anxiety and depression, so they can in turn face into their fears and move past them.  Medication by itself won’t address or solve the problems that created anxiety and depression in the first place; it won’t change the thinking that generates those feelings. 

So how about some good news to counteract all these Comfort Zone issues?  I’ll expand on this exact topic in my next posts, but here’s a piece to get started – the Comfort Zone, in addition to the characteristics listed above, is also:

Responsive!  The Comfort Zone will definitely respond to efforts to move the walls back.  You have to face into the barrage of scary thoughts and feelings, and you have to push through them – but in a surprisingly short time your Comfort Zone will get the message and adjust to your new instructions.  Because we don’t want to forget that WE are the builders of the Comfort Zone, and WE are the ones who get to decide where the boundaries should be.  Is it easy?  Usually no.  Will it often suck to face into the work?  You bet.  Is it worth it?  No question.  After all, many people suffer every day under the suffocating restrictions of their Comfort Zone without hope of things easing up on their own.  Which is better – some temporary fear and discomfort that results in decreased fear and restriction overall, or ongoing fear and anxiety? 

Next post – more on what we can do about breaking the Chronic Anxiety Cycle and shaking free of our Comfort Zone…