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The world is opening up, but we are still living in a state of discomfort. Here’s how to handle it | Elizabeth Wellington

If we want to evolve into our best post-pandemic selves, experts suggest we take a beat. That requires getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

As our lives swiftly return to "normal," we have to be comfortable making decisions that may bring on a sense of discomfort.
As our lives swiftly return to "normal," we have to be comfortable making decisions that may bring on a sense of discomfort.Read moreCynthia Greer

Dining out felt funny at first. So did going to indoor malls.

A few weeks ago I stopped by Jasper Studios in Kensington for the launch of a shoe by local sneaker designer Darrell Alston named after Philly boxing legend Bernard Hopkins. And at a recent stylish Center City soirée, I hugged long-lost friend after long-lost friend, happy to see them after 15 months. I couldn’t imagine doing either of these things ever again just a few months ago, let alone 15.

But here I am, basically, falling back into my old, overbooked habits, and it has been a pretty easy pattern to fall back into.

» READ MORE: Your social guide to Philly’s reopening | Elizabeth Wellington

What hasn’t been easy, however, is reconciling my new goals with my old demands. I like the Elizabeth who has time for masks and reading. Yet I fear she’s in danger of being usurped by her alter ego who has time for everything but Elizabeth. That’s because saying no to invitations often feels uncomfortable, like sitting on the edge of a jagged precipice filled with insecurity and instability. No wonder my answer to requests and invitations is mostly yes.

Yet if I want to evolve into my best post-pandemic self, experts suggest I take a beat before always answering in the affirmative. And in a world where instant gratification rules, that will require that I get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

So after 15 months, here we are.

“There is real opportunity in living in discomfort,” said Amena Coronado, assistant professor of philosophy at the Community College of Philadelphia. “It’s hard to bear it, but the more you can get comfortable in tolerating discomfort, the more you will learn.”

Discomfort in brave spaces

There was an ebb and flow to our pre-pandemic lives that, although it wasn’t easy, was rather comforting. The pandemic made a mess of that. Now, with mask mandates and capacity restrictions lifted, we are in a place of new beginnings. All of the ideas about changing, shifting, and thriving that we had when we were locked down can finally be put into practice.

We are entering what Joelle Tolifero, founder and CEO of Philly-based consulting firm Your Care Collective, and other wellness experts call a post-pandemic brave space.

“The brave space is where you learn, where you grow,” Tolifero said. In other words, you may have been writing a business plan on Friday nights during the pandemic because there was nothing better to do. But now you might be choosing to work on it because you want to.

» READ MORE: I’m done with unwanted hugs, and you can be, too | Elizabeth Wellington

In our brave space, will we speak out against systemic racism in our workplace? Will we respect our colleagues’ newfound personal space? Will we take a cue from Naomi Osaka and allow people to deal with their mental health in the way they feel fit, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable? This won’t be easy. And it will be with us for a while.

“[Still] it is in the brave space that we often feel discomfort,” Tolifero said. “But it’s not the discomfort of feeling unsafe that we felt when our life was on the line during the pandemic, it’s the discomfort that will ultimately help us become the people we want to be in the world.”

This is when you have to stick with it and do the right thing, even when it catapults you out of your comfort zone. Here is when you might want to say a silent prayer. Count backward from 10. Breath deeply. Do a mini-meditation.

“We are taught that painful experiences are abnormal and if we are having them we are doing something wrong,” Coronado said. “But we need to acknowledge them. We need to sit in them and move through them to get to the other side. We can’t rush it.”

Finding opportunity in discomfort

Tirzah Blair looks at this time as one of repairing and rebuilding. The 44-year-old owner of Old City’s Kari Skin loves giving facials, but she recently stopped so she could grow her business, something she didn’t realize she would have to do until she was forced to shut down for months. She’s getting used to focusing on the business over the treatments, but in the first few weeks, she said, she was wildly uncomfortable.

“I realized something had to give,” said Blair. “But I have to admit, going through this uncomfortable period is leading to personal growth, as long as we remember to go through it gracefully, collectively we can create a shift.”

» READ MORE: There’s a word for the thing we need most right now: Grace | Elizabeth Wellington

It’s not only the big changes and heavy conversations that lead to discomfort; even smaller changes can result in an uneasy feeling.

Take Ilana Waber’s experience, for instance. The 34-year-old owner of LANI Public Relations and Marketing finds herself in a state of discomfort every day as she navigates her more assertive self.

“Some days I’m OK doing something that I wasn’t OK doing the day before, and it could be simple like getting a pedicure,” Waber said. The difference is now she makes decisions that closely reflect the person she wants to be: a person who gets pedis because she wants to, not because society tells her she has to look a certain way.

“I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what I want,” Waber said. “And what’s important to me is that I stay grateful.”

Finding comfort in discomfort

Part of why we are so uncomfortable right now is because the flow hasn’t returned back to our lives yet. The routines we create today, this week, or next month may very well be thrown out of the window come fall. And that, said Heather Hersh, clinical psychologist and founder of Philly-based consulting firm Thrive Well-Being, is disconcerting.

“That’s why it’s important that instead of working our priorities around our new lives, we should get in the habit of working our new lives around our priorities,” Hersh said.

In the meantime: How do we sit in unfamiliar funkiness until we start to thrive again? Here are some tips.

Find one or two people who will help you move through the discomfort and get you to what your ideal life may potentially look like.

Joelle Tolifero, founder and CEO of Philly-based consulting firm Your Care Collective
  1. Forget others’ expectations. Our new goals may not jibe with our old personalities, Tolifero said. That’s totally normal, and the first sign that the uncomfortable feelings may be worth it. When faced with this kind of clash, be truthful. Try this conversation on for size: I know Friday night pinochle was our thing, but maybe we can play once a month now instead of every Friday night. Your friends will have an easier time dealing with the 2.0 version of you if you’re clear about your new boundaries. And remember, there is no rush to get it right.

  2. Forget about being right. Think of this in-between time as the time you’d spend in a dressing room, Coronado said. But instead of trying on clothes, you are seeing how your decisions fit into your life. Some of the choices will feel small but meaningful to your wallet, like cutting back on trips to the mall. Others will be monumental and satisfying, like speaking out against a sexist or racist action in the workplace. “Stop thinking about things in terms of good or bad,” Coronado said. “Instead ask our self: Does this decision align with who I want to be?”

  3. Know the best self-care is collective care. It’s hard to be committed to change all by your lonesome. Use this time to build a self-care team. “Find one or two people who will help you move through the discomfort and get you to what your ideal life may potentially look like,” Tolifero said.

Expert sources
  1. Amena Coronado, Ph.D., assistant professor of philosophy Community College of Philadelphia

  2. Heather Hersh, PsyD clinical psychologist and founder of Thrive Well-Being

  3. Joelle Tolifero, CEO and founder of Your Care Collective