UN­EASY PEASY

Nails scratch­ing a chalk­board. The screech of a knife against a din­ner plate. Is this mak­ing you un­com­fort­able? Ideal. As a new book re­veals that your body is not only primed for dis­com­fort, but ac­tu­ally thrives on it, pre­pare to feel un­easy if you know w

Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS - words FAR­RAH STORR il­lus­tra­tion COLIN BEA­GLEY

The se­cret to suc­cess? Fac­ing dis­com­fort head on

Ul­tra-run­ners have larger hearts than your av­er­age Joe. Elite pi­anists can move their fin­gers in al­most su­per­hu­man direc­tions. Brazil con­sis­tently pro­duces the best foot­ballers in the world. And rats, when put un­der con­trolled amounts of stress, are found to have en­larged brain cells. The rea­son? Dis­com­fort. Ul­tra-run­ners and pi­anists sub­mit them­selves to gru­elling lev­els of train­ing, while Brazil­ian chil­dren use a ball that is faster, harder and heav­ier than the soft leather va­ri­ety kicked about by the rest of the world. The les­son? Make your­self un­com­fort­able of­ten enough and your mind and body will re­ward you by be­com­ing stronger and bet­ter-equipped to deal with the stress. And yet. Bri­tish cul­ture tries to cod­dle you. If it starts in schools – ‘dam­ag­ing’ red scrawl on home­work has been ditched for softer rain­bow hues – it con­tin­ues into higher ed­u­ca­tion, too. Rather than chal­leng­ing stu­dents with new ideas and lan­guage, uni­ver­si­ties clam­our to pro­tect them by cre­at­ing ‘safe spa­ces’ on cam­puses. And it’s do­ing you no good. Count­less stud­ies show that the nat­u­ral hu­man state isn’t frag­ile, but tough. You thrive un­der pres­sure, you in­no­vate in the face of fail­ure and you think big and bold when faced with con­straint – if only you can be brave enough to step into your dis­com­fort zone. So, are you sit­ting un­com­fort­ably?

times, feel like you’ll never re­cover. A well-known fall­out of trauma is PTSD, but there’s an­other, far more pos­i­tive side ef­fect, and it goes by the name of post-trau­matic growth (PTG).

The ev­i­dence: James Pen­nebaker, an aca­demic from the Univer­sity of Texas, has stud­ied trauma and its ef­fects for most of his life. His find­ings? Those who wrote down how they felt after their per­sonal trauma re­ported fewer vis­its to the doc­tors, re­duced anx­i­ety and a bet­ter­func­tion­ing im­mune sys­tem than those who didn’t. In fact, stud­ies have shown that al­most two thirds of those af­fected by trauma ex­pe­ri­ence growth – as op­posed to stress – as a by-prod­uct.

The plan: Journalling is a great way to help process what you fear most. Pick apart what went wrong, one step at a time. The more you an­a­lyse the sit­u­a­tion, the more your un­der­stand­ing will grow in terms of how to deal with it, should it ever hap­pen again. Start with, ‘How did it hap­pen?’ Fol­low it up with, ‘Why did it hap­pen?’ Then fi­nally chase it up with,

‘What can I do should it ever hap­pen again?’ Far­rah Storr is the au­thor of The Dis­com­fort Zone (£13.99, Pi­atkus)

Most of us have been brought up with a deep-rooted fear of fuck­ing up

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