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Welcome to my island of sanity and serenity. I'm Sandra Pawula - writer, mindfulness teacher and advocate of ease. I help deep thinking, heart-centered people find greater ease — emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Curious? Read On!

How to Challenge Yourself In Healthy Ways

How to Challenge Yourself In Healthy Ways

You’ve probably heard of the “comfort zone,” but have you heard of the “stretch zone” and the “panic zone?”  They’re also called, respectively, the “comfort, challenge, and stress or red” zones. 

Karl Rohnke developed the zone model based on the Yerke’s-Dodson Law, which says that peak performance occurs when people experience a moderate level of pressure.  When there’s too much or too little pressure, performance declines.  

If you want to change and grow in any area of your life — health, fitness, career, personal development, spiritual growth, among others — you need to know where your own zones begin and end, and how to optimize them.

The Three Zones: Comfort, Stretch, and Panic

Let’s take a look at the 3 zones.

Comfort Zone

You need to spend time in your comfort zone to nourish yourself, restore your nervous system, and gather your strength for the next challenge.  The comfort zone isn’t bad, it’s just not the place where significant learning and growth occurs.

These are some of the qualities you’ll experience in the comfort zone:

  • Engaged in familiar activities

  • Calm and at ease

  • Complacent

  • Comfortable

  • Safe

  • Gathering your strength

  • Recovering

  • Filling your cup

  • Low Anxiety

  • Boredom

The Stretch, Challenge, or Learning Zone

You need to be in the stretch zone to learn and grow.  But you can’t remain in the stretch zone all the time or you’ll burnout.

These are some of the qualities you’ll experience in the stretch zone:

  • Engaging with the new or unknown

  • Taking manageable risks

  • Challenging yourself but not too much

  • Excited, energized, engaged, motivated but not overwhelmed

  • Learning, growth, and success

The Panic or Stretch Zone

It’s difficult to learn or grow in the panic zone because most of your energy is used trying to reduce stress and anxiety.  This is why performance declines with too much pressure.  

These are some of the qualities you’ll experience in the panic zone

  • Scared

  • Distressed

  • Overwhelmed

  • Alert mode

  • Flight or flight reactions:  you runaway, fight or freeze

  • Overwhelmed

  • Stressed

  • Fearful

  • Anxious

  • Loss of focus

  • Frantic


Learn and Grow Without Stress

The zones vary from person to person and situation to situation.  You need to know your zones well and practice self-awareness so you know when it will be beneficial to move from one to the other.

Learn about the three zones: Comfort Zone, Stretch Zone, and Panic Zone so you can make positive changes with more ease. #comfortzone #challengezone #paniczone #personalchange #positivechange

If you’re a highly sensitive person, your comfort zone will be very different from someone who is highly resilient.  The same is true if you have suffered trauma or live with chronic illness.  But even among highly sensitive people or highly resilient people, the zones will vary from one person to the next.

As a highly sensitive person with a history of trauma, some days, just stepping out the front door feels like moving out of my comfort zone.  I respect that and don’t push myself when it feels like it would be too much. 

But I’ve also spent a lot of time in the stretch zone over the past month, learning practical skills in several different areas — things that would have pushed me into the panic zone in the past. Because we can grow our comfort zone.

This is because, as you embrace challenges your comfort zone expands. What felt like a challenge last month, might feel easy now.  After you restore yourself, you may feel ready to stretch yourself even further.  But remember, set small goals instead of big, unrealistic ones that might push you into your panic zone.

Also bear in mind that if you don’t have clear boundaries, someone else may push you into the panic zone.  Think of the demanding boss, the parent with high expectations, or the spouse that puts pressure on you.  Boundaries are an integral part moving into the best zone for you in any moment. 

Read this to see if you have healthy boundaries in place: 11 Sure Signs You Need to Strengthen Your Boundaries

Get to Know Your Zones

Take some time to get to know your own zones.  Reflect upon or journal on these questions.

  • How much time, roughly speaking, do you spend in each zone each week?  How does that feel to you?

  • What does your comfort zone look like in different areas (work, home, social relations, health, etc.)?

  • How does your body feel when you’re in the comfort zone?

  • What signs tell you it’s time to return to your comfort zone?  Do you listen to them?

  • Do you spend too much time in your comfort zone, not enough, or the right amount?

  • What does your challenge zone look like in different areas?  (work, home, social relations, health, etc.)?

  • What internal voices do you hear when you attempt to move out of your comfort zone into your challenge zone?

  • What is something new and different you would like to do or learn?

  • What does your body feel like when you’re in your challenge zone?

  • How do you know you’re in your challenge zone rather than panic zone?  Think of some specific examples.

  • What does your panic zone look like? How do you know when you’re there?

  • How long does it take you to move from your panic zone back to your comfort zone?

  • What tools, resources, or personal messages help you move from your panic zone to your comfort zone?

Understanding how you operate in the three zones - the comfort zone, the learning, zone, and the panic zone - can help you reorganize our life for optimal levels of comfort, learn, and growth.  Embrace who you are, not who others want you to be.

Your Turn: What’s your relationship with these three zones?  Are you where you want to be?  Please share with us in the comments.


Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to  sign up for Wild Arisings, my twice monthly letters from the heart filled with insights, inspiration, and ideas to help you connect with and live from your truest self. 

And if you would like to support Always Well Within, buy my Living with Ease course or visit my Self-Care Shop. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

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