Why Doing Hard Things is Good For Your Mental Health
Some girlfriends and I were chatting recently about how to meet men outside of dating apps, since neither of us really leaves the house unless it's to go to yoga or brunch with said girlfriends.
Dannii, a newer friend of mine mentioned these workshops she'd been attending where there were lots of "hot, conscious men". And so naturally, the three of us booked our tickets to attend a Wim Hof workshop that took place last weekend, skimming over the part that said we'd be submerged in an ice bath in the middle of winter for 2 minutes. (If you follow me on Insta, here's the proof I did just that.
To give you a little background on what the Wim Hof method is, essentially it's using the 3 pillars of mindset (aka meditation), breathwork and cold immersion to alkalise your body so that you ward of disease and mental illness, whilst building impenetrable immunity and mental resilience. (During a trial, Wim himself was injected with an e-coli bacteria, and didn't get sick (!!!) thanks to his 3 pillars which he's been practicing for 20 years after his wife committed suicide from depression. He's a total beast.)
I learnt a lot at the workshop but one of the things that really stood out to me was how wired we have become for comfort.
We seem to do everything in our power to avoid feeling the cold (and also the heat). We have heat pumps, electric blankets, underfloor heating, heated toilet seats (!), heating in our cars, in our offices, and scalding hot showers.
And it's this aversion to feeling the cold that over the years has weakened our immunity (necessary for avoiding inflammation; a precursor to most chronic disease) and made us less resilient on a physical and emotional level. It’s no wonder that problems with mental health are on the rise.
We need to experience pain and discomfort in order to grow. The only way out is through.
What does 'doing hard things' look like?
On a physical level, allowing yourself to feel the cold. Go to bed without an electric blanket or heater on. We actually sleep better when our rooms are cool. Go out for a mid-winter run even when you don't feel like it. Allow yourself to feel the ground under your feet without shoes on. (Cavemen didn't wear shoes, and kids don't wear shoes!). To have hot saunas (there's studies that link saunas to a decrease in symptoms of depression). To have 30 seconds of cold water at the end of your warm shower. For many people, intermittent fasting offers many benefits.
And once you strengthen your physical body to do these 'uncomfortable' things, your emotional body is rewarded. You receive intrinsic motivation that you "can do hard things" therefore you are becoming more resilient.
Why do we actively avoid doing hard things?
We have gradually weakened our ability to withstand discomfort due to our modern, comfortable environment. Parents are wrapping their children in cotton wool so they don't have to feel anything. Parents are giving their kids "eight place trophies" (Gary Vaynerchuk quote) rather than telling them "you didn't do your best out there; you need to train harder." No-one wants to cry, and when they do, they apologise as if their tears are shameful.
Obesity, alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide are on the rise because people have been taught to numb their feelings rather than process them; quite simply.
Anna, where in your life have you done hard things?
About three years ago I committed to changing my life. I was miserable but you wouldn't know it from the outside. I was afraid to admit it to people. I was emotionally weak, not passionate about anything, afraid to communicate my needs or set boundaries, and utterly heartbroken from being cheated on. But I knew no different; I thought life really was supposed to feel that hard. For me, at least.
Thanks to working with coaches and mentors, reading books and listening to podcasts, I have become addicted to doing hard things, because I've seen what happens in my inner and outer worlds when I do.
Standing in a room of 60 strangers in my underwear and talking about my deepest shame
Singing Bootylicious standing on a bollard in the middle of a busy Surfers Paradise mall (I was DYING on the inside)
Writing about my anxiety & relationship struggles on my blog
Ending friendships that were no longer serving me
Saying no to things (this was suuuuuper hard for me)
Leaving my safe, secure corporate salary
Giving up my Ponsonby villa to move in with my Mum
Sharing that I'm going to use a sperm donor to start a family
Communicating my wants and boundaries upfront with men
Doing a 45 minute muddy bush walk in the middle of winter, barefoot
Cold showers and hot saunas
How do I start doing hard things?
On an emotional level, it's allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions (anger, sadness, frustration, fear) without needing to busy, distract or numb yourself. Really allowing the emotions to be felt. After all, they are just trying to tell us something, but typically we 'throw a blanket' over them so we don't have to feel them. It's having the difficult conversation with a friend or family member where you communicate your boundaries. It's going without your expensive beauty treatments so you can start your dream business. It's investing in a coach even though you're terrified of what you might discover about yourself. It's asking the guy out even if he might say no.
There's a myriad of ways in which we can lean into our edges, so get creative. I can highly, highly recommend going for a swim in winter. It’s basically free therapy.
Here are some journalling prompts you can try:
What in my life have I been avoiding feeling the most? And why?
What am I trying to protect myself from feeling?
What feeling or emotion is asking to be felt?
I am allowing myself to feel.....
And, just go and do some bloody hard things!! Share it with me and tag me on Insta so I can celebrate with you! This Friday night I am catching up with a group of girlfriends to do some breathwork and have an ice bath—oh how my weekends have changed.