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March 16, 2017

Using Fear While Outdoor Adventuring

Fear, it can halt us in our tracks or drive us forward. It's up to you.
By: Matthew McArthur

“Everything you have ever wanted is on the other side of fear” – George Addair

Stomach in a knot, palms sweating, the count down in my head begins 3…2…, wait I need a moment. Fear has set in. Breathing slowly I count aloud this time, actually I am shouting 3…2…1, and then leap.

Before my brain can compute what my body is doing, I fall 72 feet into the waterfall plunge pool below. Breaching the surface a new feeling courses through my veins, an adrenaline rush. A feeling that one could get addicted to.  More on adrenaline later- let’s talk about the first pre-jump feeling. Fear.

Why Fear?

Fear is our oldest emotion. It came long before happiness, sadness, and elation. It is hard-wired through our evolution. Fear triggers our flight-fight or freeze response in face of immediate danger.

Fear has been essential to the proliferation of our species. Without fear, some fierce prehistoric creatures would have taken out our ancestors. Fear kept those fur wearing, spear-toting badasses of our ancestral past alert, and helped them avoid physical threats.

Some theories suggest the only reason humans evolved to form memories is that we must remember fear. Emotional events, especially fearful ones release calcium in the brain, which in turn encodes information. Thanks a lot fear!

From Fear to Anxiety.

Very rarely we need to fear for our lives while venturing outside. The last time I walked outside, I didn’t fear anything, no saber-toothed tigers or stampeding wholly mammoths. In all actuality we have less to fear than ever before. Yet we have more phobias and anxieties than ever.

For the first time in human history more of us live in urban areas. The percentage of urban living is projected to grow. With this new urban lifestyle, new phobias are immerging. Those in particular are fears of nature, and the natural environment.

This disconnect from nature has dire consequences for both our health and the health of the planet. According to UN reports on the world’s natural environment- 60% of the earth’s natural eco-systems are already damaged, with many of them not having the capacity to regenerate.

Nature helps our immune system, motor skills, reduces stress, keeps us active, improves our concentration, and a whole cocktail of shakin-not-stirred benefits to our health. If you regularly venture outside, then you know this.

That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.

Fear can be both the lock and key when adventuring in the outdoors. It can prevent us from doing things that we may very well love. Fear can also can allow us to experience peak emotional states, if we are lucky.

If we understand our fear, we can control it, use it to our advantage, and unlock things unimaginable.

Here are a few tips to using your fear while outdoor adventuring.

  • Harness Your Fear!

If you are afraid when you are about to make a big vertical rappel or paddle into a head high wave, use that fear to your advantage. Fear has the ability to embolden you, then cause you to rethink, making you safer. That is fear doing its job. If you decide to go for it, a moderate amount of fear will release adrenaline. This is a performance enhancing drug. It makes you respond quicker and gives you more strength.

  • Have Fun!

Like previously stated, a moderate amount of fear is helpful. Too much fear will paralyze and drain you. Some ways to keep your fear in check is to joke, smile, and laugh, even if you don’t feel like it. These simple actions will trigger your parasympathetic nervous system. This helps shut down the fight, flight, or freeze response. It also helps to relax when you smile. Our advice on this one is fake it till you make it!

  • Defy the Ridiculous!

Are some of your fears silly? Being alone outside, the dark, heights? Confront those fears by taking a walk alone at night, peering over a cliff, or anything that can give that fear feeling. Over time it will be recognized in the brain that it’s not something to be afraid of if you are careful and safe.

  • Sweat the Small Stuff

Train your brain to pick up the small things that can accumulate into much bigger problems further down the trail. Things like exhaustion, dehydration, ominous weather, the adventure taking longer than planned. These little things have dire consciences further in the day. Take courses in first aid, wilderness survival, or just consult the all-knowing internet. Being prepared for adventure is the most important thing in venturing outdoors.

Have fun, be safe, and adventure on!

Read more of Matt’s Adventure Blogs on his very on blog revolving around his amazing adventure company. Adventuresque Extreme Vacation!