Navigating Change: Embracing Discomfort and Finding Growth
These past few weeks, change has been in the air. I see the trees letting go of their vibrant leaves and feel the crispness of the air. Change, while inevitable but at times transformative, can also be quite uncomfortable. Regardless of whether change is unexpected or expected, pleasant or unpleasant, it is always challenging in some way.
As a therapist focusing primarily on eating disorders and body image, I spend many sessions with my clients, helping them learn how to practice body neutrality body acceptance, and dismantling the belief that our bodies are a measure of our worth or value. For many of my clients, this can feel impossible. When recovering from disordered eating or an eating disorder, it is quite common and normal for our body to change once we no longer manipulate it to where we think it should be. Learning to trust our bodies can feel very scary. So, how do we stop being so uncomfortable?
For a while— maybe a long while— we don't.
We live in a society that encourages the avoidance of emotions and quick fixes. Learning to be okay with uncertainty and discomfort is a process that cannot be avoided or rushed. Helping my clients accept that sometimes our problems truly don't have solutions, or at least solutions we can access in the moment, is a common aspect of psychotherapy. We must learn to sit in the discomfort, tolerate it, and find ways to navigate through challenging changes. This could be your body changing, starting a new job, losing a loved one, starting college, etc. Familiarity often makes us comfortable, while change can elicit uneasiness and even fear.
We must allow ourselves to be uncomfortable while change swirls around because change means growth.
A helpful thing to remember is that the majority of discomfort we experience throughout a change is simply because it is new. I recently moved, and this experience has tested me. I felt comfortable and safe in my former home, and I loved how I had decorated it. Everything was organized and had its place. Eventually, I ran into a problem. I realized my life was changing, and I needed more space. So, I found a home that was bigger.
At the end of moving day, I felt incredibly overwhelmed. There was so much to unpack and organize. I kept saying to myself, "How in the world am I going to make this new space feel like home?!" One step at time: day by day, box by box, I unpacked… organized… and eventually decorated and made it mine. I allowed myself to take up more space. I started to enjoy my new home, and almost 18 months later, I can't imagine myself still in my old home. I have fully embraced my new home.
This process is similar to what it means to accept a new and changing body. We must give ourselves permission to allow for grace and compassion. We can practice flexibility throughout change to move through it. Investing in ourselves and taking up the space we need can help us by ensuring we keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when we may not know where we're going. This is a process that can universally feel uncomfortable. This is normal. It's okay to feel that way.
As I continue to experience fall, knowing that winter is not far behind, I work to anticipate it open-heartedly. Just as there is underground growth in nature during the cold and darkness, so is growth in our darkness and discomfort. We do not need to go through that alone! I can call a friend, light a fire, snuggle underneath a cozy blanket, and drink a warm cup of coffee or tea. I will wait until spring comes. The wait is always worth it.
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Deva Murphy, MSW, LCSW
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1429 N. Prospect Ave
Milwaukee WI, 53202