Estranged parents: Get out of the comfort zone
By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Venus, the perky young woman in brightly colored spandex, paused her pen on the intake form and looked up with a grin. “How tall did you say you were?”
“Five ten and a half,” I replied.
“Ooh, girl!” she said with a squeal. “I hear Victoria’s Secret is looking for models.”
How many times had she used that line, I wondered, as she jotted my data on her form.
“Let me tell you about the program.” All business now, she launched into her sales pitch for the fitness program that included a meal plan, classes, and full use of the gym every day.
I squirmed in my seat. This was getting real.
As she went on about High Intensity Training classes she referred to as “HIT,” my mind wandered back to the advertisement I’d first seen online:
In front of my computer, my index finger had hovered over the “join” button. I’d never liked gyms, but I did recently turn 60, and I was holding some extra pounds from a recent long-distance move, heaped-on stress, and Covid-19 (isn’t that last one everyone’s excuse right now?). It was time to get out of my comfort zone. Besides, how hard could this be?
I imagined a supportive group of older women, smiling and laughing, cheering each other on. Maybe we’d become friends—something I could use in my new town, which was just emerging from pandemic restrictions.
My nerves racing with a mix of fear and excitement, I had clicked on “join,” filled in my info, and was prompted to choose an orientation time. When I did, my phone almost immediately jangled. A text had arrived from my new personal trainer: See you tomorrow, Sheri. I can’t wait to help you crush your goals!
Now, as I met with Venus at a small desk near the entry door to the gym, I wondered: Am I really ready for this?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the safety zone of home took on more importance. To varying degrees, many of us had no choice but to embrace isolation. Estranged parents’ comfort zone usually already means shrinking back from social situations to avoid awkward questions and uncomfortable explanations. The pandemic made isolation the norm.
Some estranged parents said knowing that made being alone a little easier. Others felt the sting of estrangement more acutely. If a global pandemic can’t make someone see how fleeting life can be, what can? It became a turning point. Regardless, now that the whole world is starting to step beyond the safe comfort of home, estranged parents can join in the collective momentum, push past boundaries, and derive benefits. That’s what I was thinking anyway, when I clicked on “join” for the fitness challenge.
Estranged parents, get out of your comfort zone
Estranged parents suffer deleterious effects to psyches, health, and self-worth. You might have caught yourself asking questions such as these:
- Who am I if I’m no longer a dad?
- What gives me purpose if I’m no longer a grandmother?
- If my own flesh and blood doesn’t want me, who will?
Don’t get down on yourself about the thoughts. Estranged parents are thrust into a transition beyond their control. That’s similar to the pandemic’s effects. Only this time, we need to recognize the benefit of getting out of our comfort zone rather than leaning into it. Why? Because pushing our boundaries is good for us. Stepping beyond our boundaries builds mental muscles the same as I expected the gym to build my physical ones.
Pushing past boundaries: Good for estranged parents
Everyone is forced from their comfort zone from time to time. A looming deadline, a required appointment, or some other pressing need causes anxiety that spurs us to get things done. And when we do step out, we build confidence for the next time we must take action.
We can purposefully build self-confidence by choosing activities that cause a little productive anxiety. Researchers call this “optimal anxiety,” which means enough stress that we’re not overchallenged or paralyzed in fear but we venture just beyond the comfort zone that keeps us stagnant. Optimal anxiety drives us to act. Then, we can feel good about pushing our boundaries, even a little, and trying something new or challenging.
Estranged parents’ self-esteem takes a hit. Fight back. Getting out of your comfort zone, in planned, manageable ways, helps you regain your self-worth.
Another benefit is that igniting optimal anxiety helps you better manage anxiety in general. Estranged parents face a lot of uncertainty about the future. Will we ever get past this? Will my child have regrets? Can I really move forward?
One thing about the future is certain: Time is precious. We might as well get joy and fulfillment out of life while we can. As scary as it is, moving beyond our comfort zone is required.
Pushing yourself, even a little, can help you feel more alive. To mope around and think sad thoughts, get stuck in anger, or worry about the future only digs you more deeply into ruts of despair. Remember when you were younger, and everything was new? Pushing past your comfort zone sparks those old feelings of life being fresh and new. That may mean you feel more like your old self (or even better).
Fine wine may sit in a barrel and get better with age, but people must shake themselves up and take action to get the same result. Stretching the mind and engaging the body maintains or even enhances cognitive abilities as people age. Pushing past the comfort zone helps.
We gain new territory when we try new things. Our boundaries widen when we push beyond them. Bottom line? Getting out of the comfort zone improves us.
Escaping the comfort zone: Strategies
Start small. For me, that meant acting without immediate commitment. I pressed the join button, chose an orientation date, and then showed up to meet Venus and learn more about the program. I committed to explore the idea, but that didn’t mean immediately signing on the dotted line.
You may be like me and feel the need to know more before deciding something big or challenging. I tamped down my anxiety by keeping my thoughts in check: This is just an orientation. I’m exploring the program. I haven’t committed yet. This wouldn’t work for everyone, but for me, just agreeing to the orientation pushed my boundaries. I’d never joined a gym and never wanted to. The thought of entering one now was a cardio exercise in and of itself.
Accountability. After booking the appointment, I told two people who I knew would cheer me on. Confiding plans keeps you accountable. Choose someone who will be supportive and who will follow-up. You’ll want to report the good news!
Overcome opposition with benefits. After 38 years of marriage, including my husband in decisions is second nature. I knew he would be supportive and told him immediately, but in remembering that conversation for this blog post, I realized something else has become second nature: featuring his benefits. As I told him about my fitness challenge, my benefits morphed into things that he might like. I’d want to ride bicycles with him more often, or maybe after the program, we could join the gym and workout together.
If you face opposition, find ways to present your plan so it benefits the other person. Or, if you’re your own opposition, present the benefits to yourself. Write them down even. Then turn to them if you start to feel scared.
Look at my results
You’re probably expecting before and after photos . . . but things didn’t turn out as planned. That day at the orientation, Venus began throwing out specifics about how the HIT training would work.
“You’ll do a bunch of jumping jacks, drop down to the floor for a set of planks, then get up and run around the building three times, and get back inside the gym for more.” She continued about class sizes and the coaches who would “motivate” me. My anxiety began to rise.
“What about the women over 60?” I asked.
“Oh, there will be a few of you, girl,” she said. “You’ll be required to take at least three classes a week and they’re open to everyone. People drop in and out however that works for them.”
I glanced around the gym where a bunch of twenty- and thirty-somethings in clothes as tight as their bodies lifted weights, ran on treadmills, or climbed stairs in place. Their taut skin gleamed with a sheen of sweat. My dreams of a supportive group of women like me evaporated.
“HIT is the only way to lose weight,” Venus said. “The classes are kinda like P90X.”
I’d seen the infomercials full of hard bodies and lots of sweat. Those workouts involved a variety of maneuvers that were INTENSE. “P90X?” I repeated.
Venus shrugged. “Kinda.”
Suddenly, the goals that had begun to take shape with Venus’s first motivating text seemed impossible. This wasn’t what I’d imagined. Remembering the painful joint problem that had left me unable to walk for more than a week two autumns ago, I knew this particular challenge wasn’t for me. That’s because I know myself. Not wanting to look weak or call attention to myself, I’d work so hard to keep up with a bunch of youngsters in Spandex that I’d end up hurting myself. I’d crush my goals all right—in self-defeat.
Venus must have sensed me wavering. “Don’t let your mind hold you back,” she said, probably as she had a thousand times. . . . Even so, I wondered if I should go ahead. She’d spent her time to sell her product.
She winked. “A few classes with our coaches and you’ll crush your goals.”
I imagined the coaches like sinewy P90X drill sergeants in tight shirts, barking orders, pushing me to perform.
“Gir-ril,” Venus chirped. “That modeling contract is waiting for you!”
Modeling contract? More like a heating pad and a walker. I laughed. “I’ll need to think about it.”
Immediately, Venus stood. She knew I wasn’t going to fork over the $300. “Well, thanks for coming in,” she said, ushering me toward the door.
“No, thank you,” I replied, glad she didn’t persist. I exited the humid confines of the gym and stepped into the sunlight.
Not a failure
While the program wasn’t quite what the advertisement had presented, it wasn’t all a loss. Just by entertaining the idea of joining a gym and a fitness group, I’d pushed my boundaries. Attending the orientation built my confidence, made me feel alive, and even more eager to get myself back in tip-top shape—on my own terms. That means getting back to my active lifestyle (swimming, hiking in beautiful places, daily walks. . . ).
Knowing what’s right for you, accepting yourself even when someone pushes their own agenda, is another way to press past boundaries. I wonder how many 60+ women clicked “join” and attended an orientation with the same fantasy as me? Especially after all the months of Covid-19 restrictions, how many long for the camaraderie of like-minded, age-similar people to cheer each other on? Some may feel cornered, end up paying the fee, and then not follow through.
I didn’t join the fitness challenge, but this wasn’t a failure. Rather, by admitting my limitations and honoring my intuition, I built my interior strength. I may have gone in with the goal of more physical strength but I gained emotional fortitude in the process.
By pushing past my boundaries, I see myself as strong in a whole new way. Proving to ourselves that we can step beyond our comfort zone helps us hold a new vision for ourselves going forward. How about you? Is it time to break out of your comfort zone, build confidence, and see yourself in new and inspiring ways? I’ll answer for you: YES!
Some of you already successfully do this. I hope you’ll leave comments and share how you estranged parents get out of your comfort zone and reap the benefits. For those in the planning stage: How will you push past your comfort zone and expand your boundaries? For some of you, that will mean learning to say “no,” and stop people-pleasing. Others will have physical goals for better health. Some may need to take a step for emotional self-care.
What will you try, what are your fears, and how will you overcome them? Later, you can report back with your insights and wins, and that will inspire even more estranged parents. Let’s cheer each other on!