Reflections from the John Muir Trail 2020: Part II - Appreciation and Gratitude shift fear and anxietyRead Now
As I mentioned in the previous blog post, the first few days on the trail I experienced an inordinate amount of fear and anxiety, particularly in the evenings and throughout the night. The fear was so fierce that I wasn't able to enjoy any of my time. I was reeling in a flood of anxiousness and reactivity. My desperation lead to exhaustion night after night.
One night in particular my catastrophizing mind thoroughly convinced me that I was doomed--that this would be my last night alive. (This was before I worked with the Just Five Breaths practice.) I was certain that I would become the meal of a wild animal!
The first few days on the trail are usually filled with some anxiety and many questions: Did I remember to pack the soap? Is there enough food? What about bear activity? What am I supposed to do if I encounter a bear? Do I look them in the eye? Act big and try to scare them off? Did I bring too many pairs of socks? And on. I fiddle with equipment and work to remember where to put things that make the most logical and efficient sense.
For some reason this year, my mind was super activated and super scared. This was my first time solo for 14 days and needing to resupply along the route. My legs were also super antsy at night after hiking five or so miles with 35 pounds on my back. My senses, as always when I'm out in wilderness, were on high alert, particularly listening intently for movement in and around camp in the evenings. I try to arrive at my 'home for the night' early enough in daylight hours so my nervous system can settle into the space before dark. It's something I learned with Shyla, my canine companion, many years before.
I also make an effort to not be right next to running water that is loud enough to block my ability to hear movement around me. It's all survival instinct, I know, and I do my best to make myself as comfortable as I can when I solo hike.
Our tendency during times of threat—perceived or actual—is to shift into anxiety or survival mode. We’re hardwired for this. Our negativity bias goes on high alert and is on the look out for threats, what’s wrong, what’s out of place, what isn’t working. As part of this, today we may find ourselves fixating on social media or news reports or other stimulating media that can support activation of stress and anxiety in our hearts, minds and bodies.
So, how do we remain connected to our best resources—a vibrant, healthy body; a clear mind with access to deep wisdom; and an open and loving heart—to meet and navigate through difficult times, particularly extended ones, such as the Covid-19 situation?
Anxiety is a necessary and important part of our body's survival system. It helps us think about and prepare for the future. It's the part of us that squirrels away resources for the winter and prepares for the worst.
But if bouts of anxiety either paralyze us and keep us from our daily activities, or occur so often we're plagued by them, then something may be amiss in our body's survival systems. It may be an important time to reach out for help.
From a mindfulness perspective, anxious thinking can be seen as another thing that brings us out of the present--most likely safe--moment. In fact, using our mindfulness practice can help assuage spiraling anxiety. With mindfulness we can also come to understand that anxiety really isn't about us, personally, it's a survival mechanism that happens on it's own.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.