*Disclaimer: this will not apply to everyone and I encourage just about everyone I meet to see a therapist, counselor, or psychologist. You have free access to these services as a student, take advantage of it.
It’s interesting how so many of us, myself included, find our comfort zone to be the place we most want to reside. It feels natural. It’s safe; risk-free. At least it disguises itself as such. But I think the comfort zone is the least safe place we can be in and here’s why. Leaving my comfort zone has been the one thing that has consistently saved me from myself. “Myself” meaning my mind.
I think this sinking back into the abyss of our comfort zones is most habitual in times that our minds are suffering. Or maybe sinking into comfort has been the cause of my suffering. Seems like a chicken or the egg dilemma. Either way, as of this moment being halfway through my senior year, I would say I’ve struggled with mental health in college far more than I ever thought I would. One observation I’ve made this time around is that with every stretch of misery, I have so much more knowledge in my reserve about how I personally need to approach these struggles. In addition to journaling, utilizing the counseling center on campus and trying to rationalize with my lying bitch of a mind, I try to grasp at any bit of inspiration to leave my comfort zone that I can.
I have found that in the momentary darkness, any spark of inspiration can seem blinding, to a point that you don’t know what to do with it. See also: you’ve been dozing off watching a movie in class and your 9 th grade history teacher turns the light on at the end, everyone squeals but adjusts to the sunlight mere moments later. Here’s my suggestion: when suddenly the light seems to be turned on, muster every ounce of energy you can and put it towards maintaining that light. Sit long enough that your eyes are forced to adjust. You’re only able to see the things you’re ready to see, so even if it’s just a flash, a glimmer, or a spark, you saw the light and you know it’s there. So, whatever you do, don’t let yourself burrow your head into the sleeve of your sweatshirt and block the sunlight out.
I had been unconsciously realizing that this was a solution, but naturally avoiding it because it requires that inkling of light and more effort than I usually care to put in. It requires a commitment to yourself, which under the veil of mental health seems impossible to uphold. Pushing my boundaries of comfort seemed to be a possible solution. Then I stumbled upon a video that only confirmed these thoughts for myself.
Yes Theory is a group of four guys who have adopted the motto “Seeking Discomfort” and their approach to life publicly displays what I’ve been theorizing internally. Their story starts post-college, where at the time four strangers, who for the most part spent their time working temp jobs, felt stagnant. Fast forward a couple of years and they have a couple million subscribers on YouTube and they just say yes to what pulls them out of their comfort zone. They started doing this to switch things up and to inspire others to do the same. But what they found is that with this intentional action of getting as far away from their “comfort zone” as they could, they became more comfortable with others and more comfortable with themselves. I’ve found the same.
Coming out, facilitating Safe Zones panels; leading outing club trips, writing for Main Street Magazine; going to India, running again after a few years off; reaching out to a friend, going to therapy. All these things terrified me but each time I felt an inkling of inspiration, I acted immediately. When consumed by heavier thoughts, those inklings only come every so often. For me, it has always come down to one deep breath and in most cases clicking a button. Submitting the application, reaching out to someone that would be interested in working on a project with you; showing up to one meeting, buying the plane ticket; texting the friend, dialing the number. A moment of action can change everything, especially if that moment results in a commitment to depart from your comfort zone.
Make the commitment to yourself, drag others into it, do whatever it takes. If you see a spark, a flash of light, a single ray of sun streaming through the window, don’t pull the covers over your head. Bask in it, feel its warmth. Figure out how you can prolong its presence. Maybe that will lead you outside or maybe it will have you turning on some music that boosts your mood. Maybe it awakens you just enough to leave your comfort zone and call a friend, go to the counseling center or into to the common space in your apartment. Follow whatever glimmer of light you have and eventually your eyes will adjust. With time and intentional action, the bright light will become your new normal.
Besides, what do you have to lose?