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How to Overcome Discomfort Anxiety

Andrew McNaughton, LCSW, CADC

The reason we make the choices we do is because we identify a perceived benefit to making them. The benefit could be achieving a long term goal we are working towards or it could be indulging in instant gratification, but there is always a perceived benefit to our choices, otherwise we would not make them. This is how we constantly get in our own ways of doing productive things for ourselves and others, because we tell ourselves, “I don’t feel like it.”

What are we really telling ourselves in these cases? “I don’t feel like it” is an example of Discomfort Anxiety. We embrace our Discomfort Anxiety when we convince ourselves that discomfort is intolerable and unbearable, that we cannot stand to feel uncomfortable, not for one second. If this sounds irrational, that’s because it is. We convince ourselves that the perceived discomfort of putting forth effort is truly unbearable and intolerable, so we make ourselves anxious about it.

Telltale signs of Discomfort Anxiety include self-talk consisting of phrases such as “I can’t stand it,” or “It’s not fair!” As it turns out, “I don’t feel like it” is also an indicator of Discomfort Anxiety. When this is our self-talk, it means that we are convincing ourselves that the discomfort of doing whatever it is we are procrastinating about is unbearable, and that we would rather not do it, which usually means we continue to do nothing.

While this keeps us comfortable in the short term, it comes at the expense of any long-term benefits that undertaking the task we are putting off may provide. This pattern is similar to the rationale we all have used at some point in our lives to justify indulging in various forms of instant gratification, even knowing that such indulgences may come with serious long-term consequences. Using alcohol or drugs is clear examples of this, but so is overspending, overeating, playing video games, bingeing on YouTube or Netflix, or even neglecting our physical and mental health needs.

Take, for instance, this blog post which you are reading. I could have written it sooner, but I chose not to. I was unaware of it at the time, but clearly I was motivated to not write because I was convinced that I could not stand the discomfort of making myself do it, even if the consequence was a lost opportunity to promote myself and demonstrate my professional skills through writing. As a result, while I did not make myself feel uncomfortable in the moments I chose to not write, I risked never completing this task, or putting myself through increased stress by finishing it under the pressure of a looming deadline. I was giving into Discomfort Anxiety by telling myself that I could not tolerate my anticipated short-term discomfort in trying to write a quality blog post, regardless of any long-term benefits that I would gain from doing so.

Since you are reading my post, I was clearly able to overcome my Discomfort Anxiety through rational disputations in order to finish writing it. I accepted that while making myself write could be uncomfortable, I could bear it. As it turned out, the discomfort was experienced relatively briefly before I hit a creative stride and completed my work in a timely manner. I share my own experience to demonstrate that this happens to nearly all of us, and that there is a rational process we can use to overcome our Discomfort Anxieties.

To learn how to manage your anxieties, contact Symmetry Counseling to make an appointment with one of our therapists today.

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