Beat Anxiety by Embracing Discomfort: 4 Strategies to Build Mental Fitness
Even though most don’t like to talk about it, almost 12% of Canadian adults are known to be living with anxiety – that is approximately 3 million people. Why is it that so many people are riddled with fear and worry about what should be minor aspects of their lives? The causes can be numerous, but are also very often not well understood by those affected. Conversely, what allows other people to be fearless in their daily lives? How can they take on so many responsibilities without constantly worrying about outcomes, what people think of them, or how they will manage if something doesn’t happen the way they think it should? Well, three obvious qualities these people possess are self-confidence, a sense of control over their situation, and clearly set goals. Easier said than done right? It does take some work, but the good news is that these are qualities you can cultivate, with the eventual goal of becoming part of the 88% of Canadians living anxiety free. A key aspect of their success is that confident, in-control people have a talent for feeling comfortable in uncomfortable situations, and if this is the case, what do they have to worry about?
Here are four suggestions you can integrate into your life to develop your mental fitness and teach yourself to become comfortable with discomfort.
Exercise with specific goals
I particularly like this one because you can really do short but intense periods of discomfort interspersed with periods of rest. You can push a little harder each time and you can track your progress in mental stamina with your progress in physical fitness. If you push hard enough, you can repeatedly get to the point where your mind is begging you to quit, and with practice you will be able to push past that, building self confidence and determination. Pretty soon, that uncomfortable pain will be something you look forward to because you will associate it with personal growth, and the knowledge that you can get through something tough.
Cut out one of your unhealthy vices for a set time period
(eg. sugar, pop, fast food, alcohol). Even if you don’t mean to do this permanently, going without for a little while will help you build mental character. You can do this for one long time period, or in short bursts, limiting your treat to weekends for example. Don’t turn to some other vice to fill the void. The whole point is to learn to be comfortable with less, and to stop turning to things that make you feel good when something doesn’t go your way, you need to find that in yourself.
Chill – literally.
For a short time period during the colder months, turn the temperature down in your home. Aim for something habitable, but just below comfort, like 65˚F(18˚C). This is a more constant, low level discomfort that will teach you to look past little things that might be bothering you and focus on the bigger picture. (It will also save you money on your heating bill!)
Volunteer for something at work (or at home) that is a little beyond your current skillset.
This will challenge you to learn new skills, think on the spot, and solve problems quickly. With these habits in place, you will be able to more calmly asses your situation and find a solution where you once may have been overtaken with worry.
Another word about the root cause of your anxiety – while the suggestions made here can help you develop your mental fitness in uncomfortable situations, it is still very important to figure out why those situations provoke anxiety in the first place. Seeing a qualified health care professional such as a psychologist, a naturopathic doctor or a clinical counsellor is strongly recommended for the best results in overcoming anxiety.
Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Canada. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/mood-anxiety-disorders-canada.htmlPublished 2014. Modified 2015. Retrieved 2018.
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Gillath O, Shaver P, Mikulincer M, van IJzendoorn MH. Attachment, Caregiving, and Volunteering: Placing Volunteerism in an Attachment-Theoretical Framework. Personal Relationships. 2005;12(4): 425-46
Petruzzello SJ, Landers DM, Hatfield BD, Kubitz KA, Salazar W. A meta-analysis on the anxiety-reducing effects of acute and chronic exercise. Outcomes and mechanisms. Sports Med. 1991; 11(3):143-82
Photo by Andrew Neel