How to Embrace the Discomfort of Self-Care

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A woman holding her face in her hands - How to Embrace the Discomfort of Self-Care


Under The Parachute Project™, self-care is defined as any action you take that nurtures your well-being. The word nurture means to provide the resources necessary for growth and development. Growth and development require change, and change is uncomfortable.

To avoid feeling discouraged, as you practice self-care, you first need to accept that discomfort and disruption will be part of the process as you strive to develop the strength, energy, and resources you need to better carry the weight of your caregiving role. To be effective in your self-care practice, you need to be willing to give up the comfort found in doing things the same way, and embrace the short-term discomfort that comes with change.

Here is an example of how I have gotten caught up in doing things the same old way when it comes to taking care of my family.  Maybe you can relate.

I have been taking care of my kids for a lot of years.  I have moved on through the toddler and pre-school phase and I am officially the mom of big kids.  Over the years, I have developed organized and efficient ways of doing things that have, in many cases, become habits. Dishing up meals, packing lunches, making sure school papers are signed and backpacks packed, are just some of the tasks that have become second nature. 

Now that my kids are getting older, these are examples of things they can and should be doing for themselves. I understand this. Rationally, I know that I am not doing them any favors when I insist on doing things for them.  It doesn’t matter if I think it will save time or prevent a mess or that it doesn’t fit into my neat and orderly plan. By not stepping back and letting them learn, with room to make mistakes, I am holding them back and undermining their growth.  Strategies I used to manage chaotic days when they were young, aren’t serving our family as well as they once did.

I resist giving my children more personal responsibility because I dread the consequences of what will happen if they do not follow through or perform the task at the level I would. Even though I know they will learn valuable lessons and develop new skills, I really want to avoid the extra pain or effort it will cost me.  I also resist, because I know that my family will not be crazy about having to take on the extra chores that they are so comfortable having me do for them.  There will be a period of transition as they get used to new expectations and it will be uncomfortable for all of us. 

Truth be told, I also really like how smoothly things seem to go when I micromanage the details and oversee how things play out.  I like how dependable and comfortable my habits have become. It’s almost enough to convince me that everyone will be better off if we just stick with the way things are.   And yet, it never fails that all of this “management” leaves me feeling burnt out and resentful when I don’t get the help I think I deserve. 

I recognize that my old way of doing things is no longer serving me or my family.  Our circumstances have changed and so I need to adapt.  I know this, but it isn’t easy to change. I’ve been doing things the same way for so long, it’s hard not to just fall right back into the old habits without even thinking about it.  It takes considerable effort, on my part, to even recognize the opportunity to make a different choice. Then, in the moment, I need to convince myself that the long-term gains, for my children, are worth the short-term discomfort I feel. I struggle to break my habits and to embrace a new way, even when I know that, in the long-term, the new way is better for me and my family.

Similar scenarios play out in all areas of self-care. We see that what we are doing isn’t working as well as it once did.  Changing circumstances motivate us to adapt in order to meet the needs we have right now. And yet, while we recognize that changing our ways will bring us valuable benefits, we also know that change can be uncomfortable. It is the desire to avoid discomfort that holds us back and tempts us to stay stuck in a rut of self-sacrifice. 


Below are three suggestions that will help you to embrace the discomfort of self-care and turn short-term challenges into your long-term gains.


Give Discomfort a New Definition:


In order to see the long-term benefits of taking action and pursuing change, you must be willing to push through the discomfort that change often brings.  One way to do this is to change how you think about discomfort. Shift your definition of discomfort from something that needs to be avoided into something that needs to be embraced.

For example: It is common to think of discomfort and pain as being the same thing. You might believe that both are a signal that something is seriously wrong and whatever is causing you pain or discomfort needs to be removed and avoided in the future. But pain and discomfort are two different things.

While pain is a sign of injury, discomfort can be a sign of developing strength. Have you ever experienced that next day soreness in your muscles after trying a new physical activity. When you use muscles that don’t get much use on a daily basis, they will let you know when you have pushed past your usual limits by providing you with some discomfort.

The first day or two of soreness can be hard to manage. You may regret ever trying the new activity in the first place and vow not to do it again.  But, if you make the decision to push past the initial discomfort and keep going anyway, you will find that the more those muscles are used the more comfortable they become. Over time, those muscles will grow stronger and stronger and that new activity will become easier and easier.  That soreness you experience turns out to be the first sign of progress.

Discomfort is often the first sign that your actions are pushing your limits, stretching your abilities and allowing you to grow in all the ways you need to in order to make progress toward achieving your self-care goals.  You can look at discomfort as an investment of sorts in nurturing your long-term well-being. Often the more uncomfortable you are taking action in the moment, the more you will grow over time if you stick with it. 


Limit the Impact of Change


While you can appreciate discomfort as an indication of progress and growth, this doesn’t mean you have to embrace a life lived in a state of perpetual discomfort in order to see significant progress.  You can limit the impact change has on your comfort by, little by little, replacing old habits with something new.

Let’s return, for a moment, to my original struggle with giving my children more personal responsibility.

If I change the expectations I have for my children overnight and present them with a list of tasks I suddenly want them to complete every day, they will resist, and refuse, and complain.  Why? Because their discomfort over the abrupt and extreme change will be high. As a result, I will have to enforce my new expectations amidst their rebellion and my discomfort level will be through the roof too.  I can tell you right now that, under those circumstances, I am likely to throw up my hands and give up. 

However, if I take a more realistic approach, presenting them with only one task that I expect them to start doing every day, their discomfort will be much less impactful.  They will be more agreeable, lowering my discomfort and increasing the likelihood that we will all follow through.  If I gradually work on having my kids add just one new task every month, they will eventually reach the point where they are fully responsible for themselves appropriate to their age, and all with relatively low discomfort. 

Breaking change down into smaller more manageable steps might seem like a waste of time. We want to see results now and on the surface this approach seems like it will take so much longer. In reality, because we limit discomfort by making one small change at a time, the long-term gains we experience will be much more impactful than if we push too hard and risk giving up when change gets to be too disruptive and uncomfortable.


Recognize Discomfort as an Opportunity:


Self-care is a life-long practice which means that it is a constant work in progress that requires frequent and ongoing change.  As we have established, change typically brings on some level of discomfort, but this shouldn’t be a deterrent that holds you back from taking action.  You simply need to be aware that discomfort is an indicator of progress and to expect that it will be an inevitable part of your self-care practice.

When you understand that discomfort is an indication of growth and progress, you can harness those feelings to help move yourself in the right direction. When you feel uncomfortable, it is likely that your first instinct will be to retreat and avoid whatever it is that is making you feel discomfort in the moment.  Sometimes, that is an appropriate reaction. However, most often, discomfort is a signal that we are being presented with an opportunity, an opportunity to make a different choice, one that will lead to different results for your long-term benefit.

The act of self-care, self-caring, is defined under The Parachute Project as making the choice that best serves your well-being over one that doesn’t.  

As a parent caregiver you are presented with many choices every day. You may be tempted to choose what feels best in the moment but this is a band aid, not self-care. Every choice is an opportunity to embrace the discomfort, knowing that if you follow through you will become more comfortable and enjoy bigger rewards over time, or follow your initial reaction to avoid the discomfort and go back to what feels comfortable, old habits, ruts and all.

Change isn’t easy. It is much more comfortable to stick with what we know than it is to try something new and risk facing challenge and discomfort.  Without change, without discomfort, there is no progress.  Discomfort can be a great motivator. It challenges us to push our limits just enough to break out of our comfort zone.  When we resist the urge to avoid uncomfortable feelings, and choose to make a new choice, that is all it takes to stretch our abilities and our confidence. The resulting growth bring us closer and closer to where we want to be. It is time to embrace the discomfort as a sign that we are growing and moving on to better things.

“If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.”                                       

                                                                            ~ Unknown



Self-Care Action Discussed in This Post:

Consider these questions: When have you been presented with an opportunity that made you feel uncomfortable? What was your choice? Would you make a different choice today knowing your discomfort was an indicator of potential growth and progress? Identify a self-care action that you have been neglecting so as to avoid the discomfort that change would bring. Develop a strategy to break that action down into smaller more manageable steps. Begin by implementing just the first step to minimize your discomfort and increase the likely hood you will follow through.



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