I’m the first to admit that I have anxiety, and whilst I’ve developed a huge range of tools to deal with it (adventure being one of them) I often find myself catastrophising and projecting the worst possible outcome regardless of the amount of work I’ve done. The truth is, new things scare me, and this is no different with travelling. Sometimes it can come out of nowhere; happily enjoying a trail and suddenly my heart is pounding faster, palms sweaty. As with most people, there are things that feel ‘out of my reach’ and the more I’ve worked on my mindset around my abilities, I’ve pushed hard and fast through my limiting beliefs more times than I can count. However, as we do bigger and newer things, there are times where my anxiety becomes debilitating, completely removes my enjoyment of what I’m doing, leads me to make irrational decisions and sometimes (although very rarely) stops me from doing what it is I want to do at all.
When something scares you, as much as you might want to do it, that fear can sometimes win out. When you get stuck in your head thinking of the many things that could go wrong rather than right, you can talk yourself out of what it was you wanted to do. From my experience of talking to people about their fears, it’s amazing to see how so many different things affect different people. One thing that is often clear is how much so many people let their fears control what they do, believing that they can’t do something because of the idea of what might happen if they try. This can stop people travelling by plane through to hiking a ridge line. For me, it is an irrational fear of being ‘trapped’ on a hike, a feeling that I’m stuck, and this often becomes obvious to me when I feel tired. I can feel like I won’t be able to get back to ‘safety’. For quite a while, this became something that was a big problem for me, and I’d sometimes get to the point where I’d just turn around and come back, never pushing myself that bit further to see that I could actually do what I’d set out to do. This would make me feel awful, I’d beat myself up, sometimes I’d even cry.
About two years ago, I decided to give meditation a try, I’d heard from quite a few people that it was really good for anxiety, but I was incredibly sceptical about its benefits. Downloading an app, I searched through, amazed at the amount of different meditations there were out there. I decided to try out a few, and for a while I didn’t quite find what fitted for me. I’d go into the meditation feeling silly and all I could think about was everything other than what I was meant to be doing. When I found mindfulness, my opinion completely changed. The idea of mindfulness meditation is to bring your attention to experiences happening in the present moment, which often concentrates on the breath.Within a few days of practising mindfulness through meditation, I started to find myself able to disconnect from my anxious thoughts a lot easier. When I found myself having an anxious thought, I started to be able to recognise that it was because I was thinking about something in the future, and not about the present moment. I was able to ground myself by connecting simply to the in and out motion of my breath, and within a couple of minutes, the thought I’d been drowning in had gone. This simple practise of mediation for ten minutes a day was having a huge impact on my day to day life.
It was when I started to introduce mindfulness to adventure that things really started to transform for me. I realised very quickly that when I felt myself get anxious, it was because I was imagining that something terrifying was about to come up, that there would be a sudden steep drop off in front of me or that I wouldn’t be able to make it back down to the start of the trail. The thoughts that had been debilitating to me before seemed to be rationalised much more easily. I was able to identify the thoughts I was having as irrational and I started to develop a much more ‘well let’s see what happens rather than imagining it’ approach. Whenever I found myself worried, I’d refocus on my breathing and bring myself back to the present moment. I started to introduce my other senses into this too, and I’d really focus on what was happening right then. It might be focusing on the breeze on my skin and how it felt. It could sometimes be looking at how the light was at that particular moment. I started to realise that it was just the inside of my anxiety that had been scary and not the environments I was in. This helped me to really connect to nature more and more and I really started to feel how much more regenerated and invigorated I’d feel after a hike. The more I practised, I was able to use mindfulness to help me through so many situations that would have in the past had me locked up and turning back. I was able to use my breath and concentration on the moment to push myself further than I ever had, and in turn, able to see that my limits were nowhere near where I thought they were.
I never would have anticipated when I started to meditate (which I imagined I’d have given up within a few weeks) that I’d be using it to help my development in the outdoors and in adventure. It has helped me to feel much freer and in turn, connect much more to my environment. Because I’m not worrying so much about what might happen and focusing instead on what is happening, I’m able to deal with situations in a much more level headed and positive way. It has been proven that meditation has significant health benefits and as well as the benefits I’ve encountered, it has also helped me to reduce my stress levels. Meditation also aids better sleep and also aids muscle regeneration, meaning less lethargy on long treks. It can also enhance your endurance, meaning that you’re more likely to perform better.
Plus, it has made me a much happier human being.