I am an adult on the autism spectrum and if I am too uncomfortable for too long, my nervous system will short-circuit.
Since I still want to live a full and adventurous life, I have to make it a point to remove unnecessary or avoidable stressors and add things that make me feel comfortable, grounded and happy. If I do that conscientiously, I am very able and productive.
Since I like being able and productive, it’s become my lifestyle to make everything as “cozy” as possible.
While “cozy” might sound like a luxury to some people, it’s pretty existential to me. It can determine whether I love everything and love living, or if the world is an overwhelming, aggressive, confusing, stinky, loud, and horrible place.
But although “cozy” is especially important to me, this story is not about me. I have to be cozy to cope well. But I see countless people around me who would benefit as much from just being a bit more cozy on a regular basis. From prioritizing how they feel from the inside over how they seem from the outside. It would benefit their energy levels, their health, their relationships, and their career.
If you prioritize how you seem, you will always suppress some amount of your emotional and physical needs. This may be different for everybody. It may come in the form of showing up at work on a day that desperately needs a lie-in; Wearing something uncomfortable but elegant; Holding your pee for a super long time because it seemed like a bad moment; Staying on a friendly basis with people who are aggressive, unfair, abusive, needy or clingy; Keeping your mouth shut about something that upsets you; Or, spending time on platforms where you can seem awesome but that make you feel terrible.
While in Traditional Chinese medicine, the human body is seen as a highly resilient masterpiece, which can endure a lot of stress, it is also acknowledged that every process of combatting stress leaves behind byproducts in the body. In short, even small stressors create a form of “trash” in the body. Everyone has a certain amount of this “trash” in their system. If it’s a manageable amount, and the self-repairing systems have some free time on their hands, it’ll be removed in no time. If not, it will hang around. Like sand in a technical machine, this trash can cause trouble right away, or it can be left undetected for a long time and then suddenly cause problems, or you’ll notice this burden on your organism subliminally as low energy, brain fog, or a slow metabolism.
The idea of stress affecting your health is of course very much known in Western medicine - Chinese medicine just focuses more on the nuances of small, chronic stressors such as a sleep schedule that doesn’t match you, too high or low body temperature or a slightly misaligned spine. In TCM, the “trash” accumulated in the body is measured before what Western doctors would call “symptoms” appear, by observing energy levels, stool, quality of your pulse and the appearance of the body.
Making your own comfort in your body just a bit more important also means tapping into an incredible intelligence within you that might have been neglected so far. If your boss actually gives you the creeps, but you just “get over it” every time, you might work for a narcissistic jerk for two and a half years too long. If you secretly hate your running group and everything about running, but don’t want to seem like a quitter, you might end up wasting 60min x 5 x 52 = 260 hours of your life hating that very life, while you could have found after half a year’s search that Badminton is your sport and you could end up in the Champion’s league. (Or just enjoy every minute of it so much more.)
A lot of people have to experience intense suffering or drastic experiences to finally realize: It’s not worth censoring myself to be a “good” person in other people's eyes. Why don’t we stop making choices that make us feel worse in our body, but we do out of this weird sense that we “have to”?
For people who are somatically sensitive, being more cozy could mean wearing fabrics that feel really good on your body (removing the stressor “unpleasant fabric”). For someone else it might mean getting mobile data on their tablet so they can work on passion projects during a long commute (removing the stressor “boredom”). Using a very expensive but awesome pillow (adding the cozy: extra comfort during sleep). Always having makeup with them to provide for any unexpected smudging events (removing the stressor: embarrassment and insecurity during meeting).
But also, cozy can mean other things like:
Telling people “no”.
Making a fuss when treated badly.
Canceling events for no other reason than that you just don’t feel like going.
Scheduling more hangout-time with friends.
One thing is sure: for everyone it will mean a series of small things rather than “the one thing”. In some way, we adults are like large small kids. We have very complex stressors and relievers that you can learn if you observe patiently.
But should we start acting like little spoiled toddlers, bending to every little need of ours and acting out every impulse? Probably not.
Being able to suppress emotions is a very important skill. We need to be able to put them aside and just “do the job” sometimes. If I am on stage as a dancer, I don’t want to be thinking and whining about the nuances in my relationship with my flatmate. If your child is ill, if someone needs help, or if you’re just really convinced to get your mind off of things and get some work done - all these are super legit use cases to engage our feelings-suppression-techniques.
We might swallow the feelings and just silently digest them until they’re gone, or set them aside to deal with them later.
It’s important, though, to notice whether you’re doing this deliberately or automatically. If it becomes a default thing and you can’t even really feel them in your every-day life, then someone or something has taken away a very large piece of you, a massive intelligence that helps you intuit, be yourself and be healthy and in power.
Everyone decides for themselves to what extent and in which moments they listen for, react to or suppress the emotional and physical signs of their body. Every situation requires a new kind of reaction - it would be wrong to say that you should never suppress emotions, as it would be to say you should never listen to them.
Again, it’s everyone’s personal decision and there is no right or wrong. But a lot of clues in Western as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine show how toxic stress is, it makes sense to examine if being more cozy might mean being more awake, more clear-minded, more fast-thinking, more assertive, more productive, more relatable, more relaxed, happier, more creative and more ourselves. And more unique, because all of our styles of being cozy in life are unique. Our ways of adapting to societal expectations are way more similar.
If you don’t believe it’s possible, because your job or childcare is too demanding, think of the many super small ways to help yourself out.
Why don’t you examine your emotional state a bit more closely in the next weeks and identify moments where you definitely feel “uncozy”. Maybe even make a list. Do you deliberately want to put your needs to the side? Or could there be a small fix, such as leaving early, changing outfits, bringing more food? A medium fix, such as a confronting conversation? Or maybe there’s a need for a bigger change, like changing workplace, ending a friendship or moving houses?
In any of these moments, just take a second, breathe and ask yourself:
“What would make you more cozy right now?”
You’ll be surprised at how good you are at designing a life in which you might seem unconventional at times, but feel great in your body and in power. In some ways, it’s extremely simple!