Returning to work after a weekend at home, you might be feeling rather satisfied with your cosy days in, binging on box sets and your favourite food. We all need time to recharge our batteries, and it’s not hard to find a lifestyle magazine, Instagram influencer or blogger extolling the virtues of self-care.
Now, psychologists are suggesting that this trend for ‘me-time’ could be damaging our health – and not in the way you’d expect. It’s part of a phenomenon called the ‘comfort trap’ which The Sunday Times journalist Fleur Britten wrote about recently. The argument goes that self-care is encouraging people to shy away from uncomfortable situations – our instinct for physical safety has extended to emotional safety. How many of us have chosen the familiarity of a night at home rather than attending a party where we might have to mingle with people we don’t like?
Discomfort, however, has an important role to play in our self-development. By practising socially, we are better prepared for the lows that life throws at us. Whether it’s a work project that sees us paired with a colleague we don’t know or Christmas with the in-laws, we all need to be ready to deal with awkward conversations and, potentially, conflict.
Social cocooning reinforces echo chambers. This is dangerous, risking extreme opinions and our own assumptions going unchallenged. Engaging with those who hold different points of view is critical for healthy debate, helping people to understand each other at a time when our society is increasingly divided. From a corporate perspective, the exchanging of views is what drives innovation, questioning the upholding of tradition for tradition’s sake.
Apps like Polarize now offer friendly digital forums where people can discuss their opposing views – a contrast to social networks like Twitter where arguments can quickly escalate. This is well intentioned but it is also disappointing that we need digital tools to enable a basic social skill – conversation. As my colleague recently wrote, this is in danger of becoming a lost art.
We should try to venture out of our comfort zones in the real world too. That might mean going to the BBQ that you really don’t fancy at the weekend, or getting on and writing an opinion piece to air your views on a burning industry issue. If we want to progress then we need to be challenged and challenging. We won’t always like what we hear, but that’s the point.
Stephanie Byrne is a senior account manager at Camargue