The learning zone model is something that I've found helpful when working with anxiety for both my clients and myself.
Comfort Zone: Where we feel safe and can let down our guard. We can rest and feel very little pressure. We get restless and bored if we stay here too long.
Learning Zone: Where we push ourselves in a healthy and manageable way. We take on new challenges in order to grow.
Panic Zone: Either we try to take on challenges that are too large, or are thrust into situations that we don't have the skills yet to handle. Our bodies go into survival mode and it becomes difficult to access the rational parts of our brain.
Important things to note:
Thoughts alone can push you into the panic zone. Ruminating about past regrets or having obsessive thoughts of potential disasters mean we experience discomfort even when doing nothing else.
Personal growth only comes from challenging ourselves, trying new things, making new connections. This is almost impossible to do when we are in our comfort zone.
If we are stuck in our comfort zone for an excessive periods of time, our world gets smaller and smaller, as we do less and less.
We cannot stay in the learning zone forever. Ideally we bounce between the comfort zone and the learning zone to balance rest and growth.
The zones are not static. What we do in the learning zone can help us grow our comfort zone (we master new skills and create trusting relationships over time that become part of our comfort zone).
It's important to appreciate everything contributing to your mental state. If you are having relationship hardships, difficult times with work, feeling isolated, or experiencing loss, we have less energy to put towards any other tasks in the learning zone.
A therapist can help people who are having a hard time balancing how hard we push ourselves and taking healthy breaks. They can also help identify and address key stressors that push someone into the panic zone.