“Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another.” -Juvenalis
Most of us who enjoy the comforts of society have lost touch with much of the wisdom that nature has to offer. Living lives of stress means our nervous systems are often so strung out that we become serial pleasure seekers and avoiders of discomfort - constantly trying to escape much of the cognitive suffering that we experience on a day-to-day basis.
Studying emotion has taught me that we must go through difficult emotions rather than around them. We must accept them as they are, and without judgement, in order to allow ourselves to feel them and integrate them. We know that difficult emotions are not bad - in fact, they protect us and often have a lot to teach us about ourselves and the world. This perspective, which is clearly more helpful than a negative one, can also be applied to our relationship with discomfort.
What if discomfort is not actually bad, but an incredible tool for growth?
Here’s where the cold comes in. Feeling "cold" is something people have historically tended to avoid out of survival instinct, (and for good reason), but as a result of this, we have lost touch with our bodies’ incredible ability to adapt to and experience the sensation of cold without, essentially, going into panic mode. When we retrain this ability, we retrain the entire nervous system, effectively reducing our sensitivity to stress - and reducing our sensitivity to stress makes daily life a lot more enjoyable.
When I began daily cold exposure, I experienced a powerful shift in my health. I had expected to experience the physical benefits of course, as there are many researched-backed benefits of regular cold exposure, which you can read about here, but what surprised me the most was the shift in my mental and emotional health.
Throughout this process, I have come to honour "The Cold" as one of my wisest teachers.
Here are the lessons I have learned:
You can either be calm or upset, but you’re going into the cold regardless. Mindset is a powerful thing. The hard stuff doesn’t go away, but we can make a choice about the mindset with which we approach it. This is easier said than done, often because we are in the habit of having a negative mindset instead. Luckily, the first step in breaking any habit is recognizing that you have a choice.
Life isn’t about jumping from pleasure to pleasure, it’s about the experiences that make you feel alive. When I stopped asking myself what would make me feel comfortable and started asking myself what would make me feel alive, my life changed. I started “tuning out” of life less and started living life more. This shift in my mindset gave me the confidence to do things that used to terrify me - such as becoming an entrepreneur and living my passion, when it was easier and more comfortable to have a 9-5 job.
We can control our nervous systems entirely with our breath. As someone who has overcome severe panic disorder, breathing deeply wasn’t always easy for me, and it would often trigger feelings of panic. Becoming aware of my breathing and learning how to control my stress response with the breath also gave me the confidence to face any stressful situation with a sense of groundedness and control - including dousing myself in an ice-cold shower.
Those emotions you avoided feeling last week? They didn’t just disappear - they’re stored in your body. As an energy worker I always knew this, but it became blatantly obvious when one day, stepping into the cold water caused me to break down into tears. When the body is under stress - emotions come out. That’s why it’s important to deal with stuff when you need to. Emotions stored in the body contribute to health problems and nervous system disregulation, so the best time to work through your emotions is now, not later.
It is possible - to approach anything with joy, even discomfort. Mustering up as much inner joy as possible and leaping into the cold creates a significantly different result than going in with resentment, hesitation, and discontent. Joy creates more joy - while resentment creates more resentment. The lesson is that humans have this incredible ability to call upon feelings of joy in everything we do, because that joy is always inside of us. We can have all this pain and suffering and difficulty, but there can also be joy. Because that’s what we are made of.
The only thing that’s real for us is our inner experience of life. The way that we perceive everything from opportunities to challenges to suffering is what gives those words their very definition. Can challenges be the same thing as opportunities? Can discomfort be the same thing as joy? Yes - because it all comes down to awareness, perception, and intention. Life has the potential to be absolutely incredible - just remember that you are the tour guide of your own adventure.
Ⓒ Jennifer Helwing Wellness Coaching 2022
I help my clients to create better lives for themselves by changing from within. Even when life doesn’t change, we can - and that is true freedom. If you’d like to find out more about how we can work together, visit jenniferhelwingwellness.com to book a session or find out more information. I’d love to work with you!