How to deal with fear in the mountains

A Story on Fear

My mouth was so dry that I thought I was choking.  I could barely breathe and 1 wrong step would mean falling about 600 feet and a definite end to this life.  I was inching my way on an extremely narrow ledge with a sheer cliff on my right and almost vertical wall and thin air to my left.  I was not on a rope (I probably should have been on 1 – I was with a friend an long time hiking partner). It was only a couple of hundred feet to safety but those were some of the most terrifying moments of my life.

Almost every hiker has been in a situation where fear raises its head.  Either you are caught by some unexpected inclement weather and are not adequately prepared or it is getting late and starting to get dark and you are not sure exactly where you are.  Or even worse, someone in your party is injured. Fear can come and if you let it, it can make things difficult.

So, the better thing to do is to be prepared in advance.

Why be prepared?  Well, fear can be overwhelming and incapacitate you. It can make a seemingly bad situation worse. But if you manage fear correctly, you can assess the situation you find yourself in with and take adequate and proper steps to get out of that situation safely and quickly.

Here are some things that have worked for me in the past:

 

Slow down, Stop

Slow Down. Stop. Pause for a minute. Gather your thoughts and figure out where you are. Sometimes, you may not have the luxury of stopping due to a safety issue. In that case, pause for just a few seconds and take some deep breaths and then carry on. Stop when it is safe and assess your situation after some breathing.

Deep breathing

This is a key point. Breath is life. Have you ever noticed that when you are in a situation that causes anxiety or fear, your breathing gets shallow?  Consciously try and control your breathing in such a situation.  Take about 10-20 deep breaths all the way into your belly so you feel your belly rising on the in-breath and falling (contracting) on the out breath. Make sure you slow the in and out breath as you get more into the breathing.  About 3-5 seconds per each inhalation and exhalation is ideal!

Mindfulness

Mindfulness can help with fear. Examine the emotions of fear/anxiety like a neutral observer.  Like a scientist would observe something under a microscope.  Where  do you feel the fear? Is it in your chest? your legs? or somewhere else?  What else does it feel like? How does your body feel?  This is easier to do when you are in a relatively safe situation from physical harm but can be very helpful if done right.

Talking to your friends/hiking partners

Talk to the people you are hiking with. Tell them that you are afraid. Do not worry about getting judged. Most people will be helpful and supportive when you open up. Try and talk in a calm manner – if they are also anxious, this will help them and will be like a positive feedback loop.  Talk about the situation you find yourself in and plan out options to get out of it.

 

Hopefully, the above points helped.  Please let us know in the comments on any situations you encountered and how you dealt with fear.

 

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