In my experience, articles about personal development tend to suggest one thing: stepping out of your comfort zone. And while I absolutely see the benefit of that, leaving my comfort zone when I have IBS and anxiety can feel very daunting. Sure, it’s great to try new things, meet new people and expand your horizon. But how do I do that without literally worrying myself sick?
Not only am I afraid of making a total fool out of myself (thanks, social anxiety). In addition to that, I also know that any new and stressful situation can cause a major IBS flare-up and that’ll be the end of it.
This post will talk about exactly that: how to step out of your comfort zone when you suffer from IBS and anxiety, and all you really want to do is hide out at home.
The wrong way: Don’t go too far out of your comfort zone
First things first, let’s see what not to do. I’ll use an example from my own life here.
With my IBS, I’m always a little scared to eat out. I’ve successfully done it multiple times now, but the first time I decided to get over myself, I agreed to a brunch.
Like I said in my IBS story, my stomach can feel its absolute worst in the morning. That plus the anxiety about eating out threw me into a terrible flare the moment I got to the brunch place. I paid money for nothing because I couldn’t eat, took a whole pack of Immodium and was the worst company ever because I was too miserable to talk. Overall, I just spent a very embarrassing couple of hours running back and forth between our table and the bathroom. Needless to say, I didn’t enjoy any of it and am not going to brunch every again.
Another wrong way: Too much too fast may lead to overwhelm
Here’s another example that doesn’t include IBS, but took my introverted personally way too far.
I went to a networking with my boss once, which is a major step out of my comfort zone for me. It was the most exhausting experience ever. At the end of the event, I could barely remember my name. The contacts we made must have had the worst impression of me. Honestly, walking up to people and presenting myself is one of the hardest things for me as a (shy) introvert, and I just can’t do it for hours.
As a result of this experience, I felt stupid, incompetent and discouraged, which is not what we’re looking for.
A better way: taking into account your personality and limitations
Let’s go back to networking events for a second, because I actually did one of those again on my own later on. This time, I set myself a goal. I would talk to 3 people, then take a break and listen to a panel discussion or presentation. After that, I would do 3 more people and so on. And you know what? It actually went quite well. I survived the whole day and wasn’t nearly as stressed as the last time. And while I did get fewer contacts, they at least didn’t think that I had an IQ of 35!
As for eating out, I’ve head countless good experiences with lunch or an early dinner at sushi or burger places. Why? Because fish and rice, meat and potatoes are safe foods for me, and I get much less anxious about eating those. And also because I don’t try eating out when my digestive system is at its worst.
Leave your comfort zone, stay in your safe zone
The point of the examples is: stepping out of your comfort zone is great, but taking it too far can be a bad idea when you’re dealing with IBS and anxiety.
If you do something out of your comfort zone and it goes well, you’ll take away a positive memory and be proud of yourself. But if you go too far and step straight into a horror movie, you might never want to go in that direction again.
Whenever you leave your comfort zone, it’s important to stay within your safe zone. Especially if you have IBS and/or anxiety. Having a flare-up or panic attack is the absolute last thing you need in a new situation!
So, here’s how you can step out of your comfort zone without triggering your IBS or anxiety:
Take baby steps out of your comfort zone
Instead of taking a big leap that might go horribly wrong, play it a little bit safer. Do something that you’re not quite comfortable doing, but that won’t make you panic. Do it well, and then take a baby step further.
Sometimes you have to accept your limits
This is especially true if you have a condition like IBS. I know that there are things that I will never do, like going out for pizza or breakfast. It’s just the way my body works, and there’s not much I can do about it. Instead, I like focusing on the things I can do and enjoy those.
Be proud of yourself
Whenever you achieved something, even if it seems small and insignificant, be proud of yourself. You took a step in the right direction and out of your comfort zone, and that is great!
When I decided to become an entrepreneur, one of the courses I took required me to ask people in my entourage, including previous co-workers, what qualities they thought I had. This is the sort of thing that I naturally would avoid at all cost.
But I told myself that this time, I was going to do it right. So while anxiously imagining my former colleagues laughing about my stupid email, I sent it anyway. The response I got was so positive and I was so proud of myself for actually going through with it! It was so worth the anxiety while waiting for them to reply. And it taught me one more time than I tend worry about people’s judgment for no reason.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is a continuous process
Taking baby steps works so well because when you do it over and over again, you end up walking quite a distance! But this also means that it’s not enough to do one step and leave it there.
After every accomplishment, you have to ask yourself where you want to go next. It’s all about reaching goals after all! After every setback, you need to look for a new way to get where you want to go.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is a continuous process. The more your comfort zone grows, the more possibilities will open up to you!
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