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Comfort explained...the good, the bad, and the unwanted kilos gained during winter.

The human brain is wired to seek comfort and avoid pain. When we experience something pleasurable, such as eating delicious food or receiving praise, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that creates a pleasurable sensation. On the other hand, when we experience something stressful or painful, such as a loud noise or physical injury, our brain releases cortisol, a stress hormone that creates an unpleasant sensation. The human brain is truly amasing, and there are many reasons why it is considered one of the most complex and remarkable structures in the known universe. However wonderful it might be, the brain can be the source of many predicaments, as it is wired to avoid stressful, intimidating, and disagreeable situations. This is sometimes good, sometimes not so good!

The brain and its blueprint for comfort impact your life much more than you give it credit for. There are three sides to seeking comfort, the good side, the bad side, and then the gaining weight side.

First, the obvious: why do we gain weight in the winter?

Winter is uncomfortable, it's cold and wet, and icy gushes of wind blow right through your whole body. It's COLD people!!! The wintery uneasiness creates subtle anxiety, subconsciously, we seek comfort in the form of food, which is most accessible to ease the anxiety and provide soothing relief for the discomfort. Research shows our brain detects cold weather and looks for warm food. Warm food can provide a sense of comfort and coziness, which is particularly appealing during the colder months when we spend more time indoors. Interestingly three things happen when our environment turns cold…

Our body conserves heat.

It sends the energy it conserves to our internal organs so they can maintain their temperature and work properly. The body can also perform heat-generating activities (such as shivering), which use energy. The body will then look for additional energy through calories from eating food.

Our body warms up when eating.

When we eat, the body needs to expend energy to digest, absorb, and metabolise the nutrients. This process requires the use of energy, which generates heat in the body, leading to an increase in body temperature termed "diet-induced thermogenesis".

Some people experience a drop in the neurotransmitter called serotonin.

This is partly because the rate at which our body produces serotonin is related to sunlight, which is lower in the winter. Serotonin helps to regulate mood, appetite, and sleep, among other things. When serotonin levels are low, it can lead to increased hunger and decreased gratification (feeling that you’ve had enough to eat), making us feel hungrier and less satisfied after meals. A drop in serotonin has also been shown to stimulate an urge to eat more carbohydrate-rich foods such as gnocchi, pasta, stews, and roast potatoes. Comfort food can mean something different for everyone. They are foods we reach for in periods of stress, nostalgia, discomfort (like being cold), or emotional turmoil. For most of us, the foods we often over-indulge in are rich and carbohydrate-heavy. If you consume more energy in cooler weather, some of it will be used to keep you warm. Beyond keeping us warm, any extra calories we consume are stored. We are much less likely to be active in cold, icy weather and will rather opt for a movie under the duvet. The decline in physical activity will force the stored calories to pile on and on for as long as the season continues. Ultimately resulting in winter weight gain.

Comfort makes us want to stay and revel in the lack of stress that accompanies this beloved condition. We also seek comfort when life becomes too difficult, and our bodies react with the release of chemicals that make us feel anxious or fearful. Why is comfort so good for our general wellness? Well, we're able to think more clearly, and we're less likely to feel overwhelmed by everything that's going on around us. When we allow ourselves to be comfortable and to experience comfort, it's incredible how much better our resilience to stress and anxiety is.

Why is comfort good? Because it can make or break your day…

Have you ever had one of those days where everything just seems to go wrong? You know the kind when you can't seem to catch a break, and no matter what you do, things just don't seem to work out. It's likely that on days like this, comfort was not a top priority for you. In fact, it's likely that you were feeling rushed, stressed, and uncomfortable throughout the entire day. And unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence.

The rat race

When was the last time you had a day where you took your time to get ready, relaxed, and enjoyed your breakfast, allowing yourself plenty of time to get to your destination? Unfortunately, more likely than not, this doesn't happen very often. Instead, we tend to rush through our days, skipping meals and running from one meeting to another. And while this may seem like an efficient way to live, it's actually anything but. We have more and more balls that we need to manage in the air, more demands we have to meet, and a lot less time in which you must accomplish them. When we're constantly in a hurry, our minds are always racing, and we're unable to focus on anything else or even truly focus mindfully on one task at a time. This can lead to anxiety, stress, and even depression, possibly burnout.

Benefits of comfort in your day

In contrast, when we take the time to relax and enjoy ourselves throughout the day, everything seems much easier. We're able to think more clearly, and we're less likely to feel overwhelmed by everything that's going on around us. When we prioritise being comfortable, it's incredible how much better our days can be. Therefore, prioritising comfort in your day can help you feel more relaxed and at ease, which can ultimately increase your overall well-being and productivity.

Wear comfortable clothes

This may seem like a no-brainer, but so many people still wear clothes that are too tight, too scratchy, or just plain uncomfortable. So instead, make sure you're wearing clothes that you can move and breathe in easily.

Sit in comfortable chairs

Again, this may seem obvious, but so many people choose style over comfort when it comes to chairs. If you're going to be sitting in a chair for long periods of time (which most of us are), make sure it's a comfortable one.

Sleep on a comfortable bed

Your bed should be your sanctuary, a place where you can relax and rejuvenate. So don't skimp on comfort when it comes to your bed or your bedroom. Make sure you have a mattress that's comfortable for you and pillows that support your head and neck. If you don't, make the change as soon as possible. A helpful tip is to find out if you are allergic to feathers. You might be thinking of splurging on a premium luxury duck-down duvet only to find it causes other health problems with more discomfort.

Work in a comfortable workspace

You can take this advice and bank on it, if your workstation is not comfortable, calming, heated to the right temperature, or even decorated in the right colour you will be tempted to procrastinate 10 times more due to the already existing winter discomfort. Procrastination only results in more stress and anxiety, and the 'Think Thank' does not want that option.

Planning is key

Get a good 8 hours of sleep, and when that alarm goes off DO NOT PUSH THE SNOOZE BUTTON!!! Get up and save yourself time so that you are not rushed in doing the school drop off and will be ready in time for that 08:30 am staff meeting. Being on time doubles your focus and brain power.

So next time you're feeling stressed and overwhelmed, take a step back and ask yourself. What can I do to make myself more comfortable? You might be surprised at how much of a difference it can make. Comfort is important, and it should never be underestimated. It really can make or break your day. So why not give it a try? You might just find that it makes all the difference in the world.

And finally, the bad side, why comfort is the secret killer of happiness…

Discomfort is an essential part of growth. Comfort is a wonderful thing. It’s warm and cozy, and it feels good to be in a place where you can relax. But comfort can also be dangerous because it makes you complacent. Humans crave feeling comfortable so much that they don’t want to leave their comfort zones. But without venturing into new territory, how will you grow, adapt, and become stronger? The answer is simple, embrace discomfort instead of running from it. Let’s look at the downsides of living a comfy, cushy life and why it’s better for your mental and physical wellness to step out of your comfort zone.

Comfort can make you stale and stagnant.

It’s easier than you think to get stuck in your comfort zone and become stale, stagnant, and complacent. Comfort might feel good at the moment, but it doesn’t teach you anything or make you smarter, stronger, or more resilient. Instead, it has the opposite effect: it can make you weaker and less able to adapt to the challenges you encounter. Stepping out of your comfort zone can have a profound impact on your personal development and growth. It offers an opportunity to learn new skills, explore different ways of thinking, and discover potential career paths. Taking the risk to explore uncharted territory is daunting, but it offers tremendous rewards and returns. It’s like jumping into cold water; it makes you gasp at first, but you slowly adapt to the change. And that’s where true self-awareness starts, embrace the change.

Seeking comfort limits your ability to meet new people.

The comfort of familiar faces creates feelings of security, which is why people enjoy interacting with family and close friends. However, doing so limits the ability to meet new people. Why is this important? New relationships often bring with them new perspectives and life experiences, which can benefit personal and professional growth. Plus, meeting new people can present opportunities you might not be exposed to otherwise. It’s important to be open to meeting new people, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone and putting yourself in unfamiliar situations. Certain risks are associated with this, but the potential rewards can far outweigh the risks.

Lack of challenge

Life is about challenges! It’s what keeps people motivated and makes life meaningful. When you reflect on your life, will you be satisfied knowing you lived a quiet and comfortable life but never challenged yourself? Start testing your boundaries with comfort zone challenges, such as going to the movies alone, starting conversations with strangers, or making a toast at a social event. These are small steps you can take to grow and develop new skills. Because comfort makes people feel good at the moment, they don’t see its long-term effects on their lives and relationships until they become obvious, and by then, it’s harder to change things. You often don’t realise how complacent you’ve become until something dramatic happens, like a divorce or job loss, to shake you up and force you to see the reality of your situation.

Seeking comfort reduces creativity.

Don’t let comfort steal your creativity. Being creative is an essential tool not only for personal happiness but also in a professional setting. It encourages innovation and helps you break away from traditional methods of problem-solving. If you are stuck in a rut and don’t want to try anything new because your familiarity with safe comfort is what you can handle right now, you might be missing out on that one big break you have been dreaming about for years!! It also allows you to develop new and unique solutions to difficult tasks or challenges. Too much comfort stifles creative thinking and ideas by not forcing you to solve new problems and come up with out-of-the-box solutions. Balance is key.

It’s harmful to brain health.

Excessive comfort can be harmful to brain health, as it can lead to unhealthy habits such as binge drinking, junk food diets, and excessive TV watching. Plus, your brain thrives on challenges, especially mental ones, to stay fit. Watching too much television in midlife has been linked to a 7% greater decline in cognitive function over a 15-year period compared with those who watched less TV. Too little stimulation isn’t beneficial for brain health. When not presented with new challenges and novel information, your brain can struggle to create new neural pathways and may even experience a decline in functioning. That’s why learning a new language or learning to play a new musical instrument is linked to a lower risk of dementia. Remember, the brain is the only organ that does not deteriorate it only matures. Face the reality that life is constantly changing and evolving, and if you want to grow, you must be prepared for some discomfort. The key isn’t just to tolerate but to embrace discomfort and acknowledge it as the price of progress. And you may be expected to be pleasantly surprised by yourself and the situation, which is not as bad as you imagined.

Fearing the unknown

One reason people resist change is because they’re afraid of what will happen if they do. They fear being uncomfortable, so they stay with the status quo. Yet discomfort is an essential part of growth. You must be willing to be uncomfortable for things to get better. Comfort can be a trap because it leads to stagnation. Change in any form is not always nice, it’s an adjustment that requires effort, new thinking, new rules, and new ways of operating. All these "NEW" things that have to be managed can be anxious and stressful. But pushing through the discomfort is much more rewarding than staying stuck.

When you’re too comfortable, you lose your edge and sense of adventure, which isn’t fun or beneficial in the long run. When you are too uncomfortable, things seem to go wrong too often and turn out completely the opposite way we planned or expected because your focus was elsewhere.

So, put on your cozy mamma pants, stop resisting change, and put your big toe into the water, even if it’s cold, and freezing outside. Take small steps, and you’ll be proud of what you learn and accomplish.

Trust me, it will all be worthwhile in the end.

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