About Lynn

lynn jaffeeLynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health, a clear and concise explanation of Chinese medicine for the lay person. She is co-author of the book, The BodyWise Woman, a personal health manual for physically active women and girls. Read more about Lynn...

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Conquering Fear: Living Outside Your Comfort Zone

I just spent the past week on my own in a city that is not my home. Part of my responsibilities there were to navigate unfamiliar neighborhoods, find parking on narrow car-filled streets, and parallel park (on the left, no less), all while cars were lining up behind me, waiting and spectating as I negotiated a less-than-ideal space. Furthermore, I am an introvert, and spending time in an unfamiliar place on my own, figuring out where to go and what to do, really pushed my beyond my comfort zone.

Living outside your comfort zoneMost of us try to live our lives comfortably, doing the routine things that feel easy, familiar, and low risk. It’s true that there are people who thrive on new and scary events, but they’re the exception. For the rest of us, pushing boundaries with new and untried things feels risky, and can elicit an element of fear and anxiety.

In Chinese medicine, fear is the realm of your Kidney. It’s considered to be the deepest organ system in your body, is the source of all vital substances, and governs your overall health, growth, fertility, and even how healthfully you will age. Your Kidney system is also associated with the emotion of fear.

While the link between your Kidney system and fear seems far-fetched, the impact of fear and stress on your body is very real. When you are threatened by danger, fear goes deep. Your body triggers a cascade of chemical reactions; the hormones adrenalin and cortisol rise and insulin decreases. Blood is shunted from your internal organs to the muscles in your extremities, so you can act quickly to fight or run. Your immunity and digestion go offline for the time being, because they are not needed in this moment of crisis. This is your body’s fight or flight response.

This response to fear has been programmed into your physiology since caveman days, and it serves you well. It becomes a problem, however, when you live in a constant state of stress, which your body can’t distinguish from the fear of a life-threatening event. Over time, the physiological changes associated with being in a chronic state of fight or flight wears you down and depletes your body constitution; the stuff of your Chinese Kidney.

So what’s the difference between chronic stress and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone? I believe that pushing beyond the boundaries of what feels comfortable is an opportunity for growth, whereas stress is something that you have to deal with and don’t necessarily choose. Whether you have a choice in the matter or not, there are a few things that I’ve found helpful when I know I am in situations that feel risky and challenging. Among them:

-Acknowledge that what you’re doing feels intimidating, and why. When you’re able to name why you’re feeling uncomfortable, you may find that it’s only a small component of the whole—a small piece that you can deal with, without feeling overwhelmed.

-Pre-plan as much as you can. Create scenarios of if…then. It creates a sense of control that you have a Plan B in place.

-Trust in your gut that you can handle this. Self-confidence is a powerful tool and works like a self-fulfilling prophesy.

-Don’t get too far ahead of yourself by visualizing the worst-case scenario. Remember that the future can unfold in an infinite number of ways. Focusing on the single worst possibility is counter-productive and erodes your confidence.

-Celebrate the victories when you have challenged yourself. Know that you have just made your personal boundaries—what you’re capable of doing—just a little bit larger.

Whether you’re skydiving, giving a speech, or traveling alone, the bottom line is that pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is a good thing. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment and mastery, and makes it easier for you to challenge yourself again. It feels good. One morning last week after I had snaked through the narrow streets of unknown neighborhoods, found a space on a car-lined street, and perfectly parked in a tiny spot, I felt like taking a picture of the car and taking a small bow.

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