I’ve been traveling in India for the last two weeks. I feel at home here, but I’ve also seen how nervous new situations can make me.
In India, there are serious things to freak out about: Malaria, lack of clean drinking water, germs that can’t stand up against hand sanitizer. When I first arrived I was uncomfortable not because New York City is less dirty, but because I control my environment in the states—places with filtered water, and without mosquitos. These aren’t easy to find in India, so NYC gives some automatic control over my environment that I don’t have here. And apparently I like control because when I don’t have it, I see how crazy I get.
Of course, India has its own conveniences that make for a great life—everything delivered to your doorstep, from groceries to airline tickets, and a service-based economy where you’re treated like royalty. But the point isn’t the difference between what is and isn’t available, the difference is what you’re used to. And there’s a lot I’m not used to here.
I’ve stopped worrying about what doesn’t matter and if a thought enters, I don’t let it linger. “It is what it is” is my mantra and life has become much easier because of it. You become all “Bring it on!” and realize you can handle a lot more than you think. I’m now used to the shower shoes, the shawls, showing up late to everything. Once I realized brushing my teeth with bottled water was my only option, I started looking for more bottles, not ways to avoid brushing my teeth—there’s a huge difference.
Practicing mental toughness when you’re uncomfortable is important, because without asking, life will throw something your way that you can’t control. Here’s what you can do to be more resilient:
1. Act, rather than respond
We’re so used to responding to our environment that it’s hard to take new sensations, even for a few minutes. It doesn’t even have to be uncomfortable, it can just be what you’re not used to. We inextricably link our environments to our bodies and design them to meet our comfort level—if we can’t do it, we get angry. We want to stop feeling the discomfort, but by wanting something to be different than what it is, we perpetuate it. If you can’t change your situation, ignore it, get used to it, or think about someone worse off than you. Being flexible with how things unfold in new situations is a golden rule for staying calm.
2. Panic about only what you need to
Like Malaria. Or getting stuck in an elevator with no one around. And even then panic won’t help. There are few reasons to freak out in life, and even those, you’re better off being in control of what you can, and leaving the rest. If you’ve taken your anti-Malaria medication, worn long socks, and slathered on repellent, do not worry about Malaria. Realize that you will never be able to control everything, and that’s a good thing.
3. Positive Mental Attitude
Believe wholeheartedly that things will work out, because there’s no reason they shouldn’t. This helped me tremendously to stay solution-oriented even when things pointed to a crap situation—like being lost at night in India. Yes, have a healthy fear of being lost but don’t start thinking “I’ll be caught by hoodlums and never found again,” just calmly analyze your options. I once read, “Do something calmly, do something quickly, but do something. Do not sit idle in the face of danger.” No matter what, your safety depends on your ability to be aware and calm, and that will give you enough energy to act, even if you’re scared. Believing in God helps me a lot in scary situations too. Say what you will, but it works.
4. Only listen to positive people
Before I boarded my flight to India people said: “Be sure to take your pills or you’re sure to contract Malaria” “Delta is the worst airline!” “India will be freezing!” I heard so much advice that I was pretty anxious heading to the airport. What happened before I caught my flight? A man who had flown the same airline on the same route chatted with me on the bus. I told him what I’d heard and he said, “Nah, you’ll be fine. You’ll handle it, piece of cake.” I loved him in that moment. He didn’t say it was a better flight or that India wouldn’t be freezing, but he did give me an enormous amount of strength in myself to know I could handle whatever came my way, which was relieving. Only talk to people like that, who don’t focus on life’s little worries. This goes for travel and regular life. Cast out people who talk too much and make room for guys like the one on the bus.
You’ve already handled a lot of discomfort in your life. And you can handle more. Know that you’re constantly being tested and that it’s your job to meet the challenges of life with the courage of a hero and the smile of a conqueror. Next time you feel uncomfortable, use it to strengthen yourself.
Ishita Gupta is the publisher of fear.less magazine. She worked at The Domino Project, runs the Potential Project, and helps people overcome fear and design their best lives. She also consult for authors and businesses on marketing and publishing.