The strains of anxiety
On vacation in Andalusia, in southern Spain, I have hiked in three different mountain ranges in the provinces of Malaga, Granada and Cadiz.
It feels wonderful to enjoy the beauty and sounds of nature and to get lost in my own thoughts.
But there is apprehension, too.
Over the last few years, leg and back injuries have muted the old pleasure of mastering physical challenges. My self-confidence has diminished, when it comes to hikes and the like.I usually plan to reach a set destination or to follow a specific route. Sometimes I care if I get there, and sometimes I don't mind ending up elsewhere. As long as the hike covers well-marked trails and easily-walked terrain, with occasional uphill challenges, and wraps up in three hours or so, I'm happy. I do prefer huffing and puffing uphill to putting on the brakes while going downhill, where I feel my knees and hips absorb too much force.
And something very unpleasant happens to me when the trails are not well-marked, the ground is uneven or strewn with loose rocks, the ups are too steep or go on for too long, and the 3-hour limit has somehow passed.
Walking along a narrow path, with little room to maneuver, I see myself falling over the cliff. I look up at boulders that have been there forever and wonder if they might come tumbling down. I look down at the Mediterranean and imagine a hypnotic urge to do something crazy - like jump. The end looms. I tell myself that I'm running out of energy and won't be able to make it much longer.
These unsettled moments are among the many ways we can experience anxiety. The continuum ranges from the passing hiking fears I have been facing to feeling out-of-control with endless nervous thoughts experienced by all too many others.
Because I'm interested in my own experience of feeling anxious, I play with my mind and experiment with how different thoughts and actions (even breathing) can worsen or improve my state.
I am discovering how to calm myself, diluting the worries and irrational fears that 'one false move and it's all over.' The quiet mind is less prone to the grip and power of fear.
Turning down the volume on your worries may not be a once-and-for-all end to anxiety, but it's a quick fix when you still have a couple more hours of hiking to do under a hot sun.
My family, relationships, movement, nature, flexibility of mind, exploration of alternative perspectives & openness are central to my life.