I realized my fists were clenched so tightly, indentations were forming on my palms. My heart was beating out of my chest, and I had pretty much stopped talking, concentrating on the trail in front of me, calculating each step and listening for any noise.
It was nighttime, I was in an unfamiliar part of a state I’m not from, on a trail I had never hiked, no head lamp or water, and I was slightly stressed. (But that’s a story for another time).
What hit me in that moment was a mixture of feelings: uncomfortable, unprepared and the anxiety that comes from trying something new in the wilderness.
I am no stranger to new places and new environments. But the combination of circumstances that led me to be on a trail at night, with no supplies in the pouring rain, had an unnerving effect on me.
Humans are an odd bunch. We place ourselves in highly sterilized environments, separated from the natural world that helped shape us. We like to think we’re connected to nature because we camp; we bring our gear and our apparel into the outdoors, we set up little shelters, and all of a sudden, we’re connected to nature.
And while that’s all great to do when you can, there’s nothing like feeling truly vulnerable, taking away all of those supplies and shields, to remind you of how small you really are.
So, what to do with the inevitable nervous energy that accumulates in your consciousness when faced with a new set of challenges?
Handle it and channel it. There is great power in human emotion – it forms some of our most powerful bonds and visceral memories.
Besides being adequately prepared for your adventure, the next time you are trying something new/scary and those butterflies begin to flutter in your chest, try one of these tactics.
Pay attention to the signs
These include increased heart rate, sweating, racing thoughts. Be aware of your body as it starts to switch into survival mode, and don’t fight it. Simply react accordingly and in a calm manner.
Focus on your breathing. If you can control it, you can control your body, and focus on the thousands of thoughts flying through your mind at the speed of light.
Lavender especially is known for its calming effects.
Keep a small roll-on oil in your pocket when you’re out and about – when you start to feel nervous, rub some on the inside of your wrists, temples and neck. The oil will begin its work almost immediately.
Trust the experts
If you’re on some sort of expedition/ activity with an expert on hand, listen to them. They will have invaluable insights into what you can and should do if something goes wrong.
Listening to someone else’s experiences and advice helps distract you from your own thoughts, if they are unproductive.
Take advantage of the years of experience accumulated by the expert in the group, and ask questions whenever appropriate.
Find a phrase you can relate to, and memorize it. When you start to get stressed, repeat it to yourself.
By making it a habit, when you’re in a truly scary situation and need some help calming down, your mantra will be a reflex you can call on without thinking.
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