Living with discomfort vital if you want to live authentically

ABC Health & Wellbeing Sophie Scott Updated Wed 30 Mar 2016

What happens when you lean in and begin to live life as your authentic self? It can be uncomfortable, to know and accept that you are vulnerable.

Most of us find it incredibly difficult to be OK with feelings of discomfort, whether it’s feeling overwhelmed at home or at work, disengaged with your loved ones or isolated.

We have all been conditioned to ‘soldier on’ when life doesn’t go according to plan. From an early age, boys are told to ‘tough it out’. Women are told to stay firm through adversity, and remain strong, come what may.

But where does that leave those of us who are silently struggling to be honest about life’s challenges and bring their boldest, authentic self to the fore?

What I’ve learnt from writing about living an authentic life is that many of us grapple with anxiety, those feelings of not being worthy or that we really don’t belong. I’ve been blessed with so much feedback from people of all ages and walks of life, all saying the same thing.

It’s clear that many of us find it hard to keep going when we feel anxious, fearful of asking for support and help. So instead, in order to cope, research shows that for some of us, the solution is to numb those feelings, through alcohol, painkillers, over-eating or over-working. We are more over-medicated, over-weight, and anxious than ever before.

Stressful situations, science tells us, are not a time for us to think rationally – we just react, often impulsively. When we are stressed, adrenal glands release cortisol. According to Olivier Bourdon, from the Centre for Human Studies on Stress, these stress hormones influence the reward circuits on your brain, and boost the effects of dopamine, thus boosting the pleasure associated with behaviours like drinking.

“Because of this, substance abuse [or any numbing behaviours] can become a self-regulation method and a solution to lower stress for people experiencing chronic stress,” he said.

For many of us this is a cycle we repeat.

What that tells me is that there is a fundamental disconnect between how we actually feel and how we want to feel.

Earlier this year, I wanted to step back and examine why I was feeling disconnected. University of Houston academic Dr Brene Brown writes about vulnerability, anxiety and shame, and her theories really resonated.

She calls it ‘minding the gap’ between how we want to live our lives – full of meaningful connections, feeling productive and balanced – and how many of us actually live – rushed, over-committed and anxious.

How do many of us manage that ‘gap’?

It’s through behaviours that numb those uncomfortable feelings, it often alcohol (guilty as charged), over-work or over-eating.

When it comes to drinking, I’m not talking about enjoying a drink or two with friends, but that ‘I’ve had a crappy day, I need a drink’ feeling. Or opening a box of chocolates while you watch TV, then you look down and realise it’s nearly empty.

The big question is why?

I’ve written a lot about happiness, what it is, how to get it and how to keep it.

What I have realised is that happiness exists when you step back a moment and ask – what are the behaviours and practices you have fallen into the habit of, to numb those uncomfortable feelings, the feelings of vulnerability, anxiety and perfectionism.

The opposite of leaning in to discomfort is to disengage with how we really feel.

Are those numbing practices, over-work, over-eating or whatever it is, allowing you to be your best authentic self?

While we dampen down those feelings of anxiety, stress or inadequacy, we are also missing out on the chance to spend those same moments doing something which gives us a real connection, to raise our spirits.

My goal now is to ask ‘Why am I doing this?’

And ultimately, is the way I’m spending my time helping or hindering my journey to live an authentic, fulfilled life.

Sophie Scott is the national medical reporter for the ABC. Her blog is at

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