The Overwhelming Nature of Anxiety

A couple months ago I summited a peak, all by myself, for the first time in my life. And let me tell you, it felt amazing.

There are a few things many people don’t know about me:

  • I am constantly anxious. As in, my mind continuously comes up with the worst-case scenario in each situation and runs through it over and over and over again until I’m essentially a basket case of nerves and emotions.
  • For a long time I’ve let this anxiety rule my life. I’ve shied away from climbing, hiking, taking risks. I’ve worked myself into a panic when I didn’t hear back from a loved one for a few hours. I’ve been overwhelmed with negative possibilities time and time again.
  • However, generally speaking, I’m an optimist.

Wait, what?

I know. It’s confusing, even to myself. I’m a positive person. I believe in the goodness placed in the souls of humanity. I believe if we continue to better ourselves we can become the stewards of this planet that we’re capable of being. I believe that kindness, conversation, and perspective can overcome the evils continuously presenting themselves in our world. With my heart, I genuinely believe all of these things.

But then my brain goes to the dark side. The fat-chance side. The one-in-a-million side. Like getting mauled by a cougar. Or losing any member of my family to any number of diseases or devastating circumstances like murder or car accidents. Or coming across a crazy in the woods. Or my bolt pulling. Or triggering an avalanche. And for the longest time these scenarios that haven’t even happened to anybody I know dominated the hemispheres of my brain until I felt overwhelmed and isolated and stuck. How would I ever live my life to the fullest if I kept suffocating under the weight of my anxiety?

Then I had an “aha!” moment. I never wanted to label this for what it was. I thought I was just another worrier (and maybe I am, I haven’t seen a doctor for a diagnosis for personal reasons), but I googled anxiety and what I found honestly changed my life. Our brain is our most powerful tool, and when used to benefit our livelihood, dreams, goals, and aspirations, it can alter our lifestyles dramatically.

It’s one phrase:

“I’m going to worry about this later.”

So. Stinking. Simple.

Because what happens when you worry about it later is that when later comes, there’s nothing left to worry about. The irrational fear has passed. You’re in a new environment and whatever presents itself there will be worried about in the next environment. It’s fear-shifting. By pushing fears into the future I’m more capable of living in the present. Fully.

I will tell you though, sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes I still feel trapped under this oppressive fear and negativity. Like a few weeks ago when I was hiking in Neff’s canyon all by my lonesome, and something moved in the bushes, and I couldn’t spook it, so I eventually turned around and walked the other way. The defeat I felt weighed heavy on my sensitive soul, but this is what I knew, it was temporary and the next day would be different. And it was.

I hiked up to Grandeur Peak with just my backpack and my not-so-shiny new approach shoes. I didn’t put headphones in, and I continuously reeled my mind back in to my breathing, to the beautiful sounds of life around me, to worrying about it later. Like magic, I didn’t assume every slithery sound was a snake lying in wait, but instead I heard lizards and marmots and squirrels. The thick stand of trees I passed through didn’t have my eyeballs dodging between every narrow space, instead I stood in awe of their massive stance, of their roots stretching deep into the earth and their branches reach, reach, reaching for the sky.

When I finally made the summit, winded, sweaty, and awe-struck I couldn’t keep from giggling. Up there I had nothing to worry about besides my place in this beautiful, living, breathing, ever-changing, natural world.

And that, my friends, was pretty fantastic.

She was powerful not because she wasn’t scared, but because she went on so strongly, despite the fear. -Atticus

Solo Summit. My first ever! Grandeur Peak 8,299′

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