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  1. #1

    Default Anxiety (on the Trail) - Lets Talk About It

    I just got back from a 70 mile trip to New Hampshire. What has been a trip that I have dreamed of for years turned into a mental nightmare of anxiety and panic attacks for no reason. This happens to me every morning on the trail, on trips that are new or of "importance". This anxiety has followed me through life with school, finances, career, family. It has been extremely difficult to overcome and I am tired of sweeping it under the rug and "dealing" with it. I don't deal with it, I endure it. I hope people will read this and it encourages them to seek help as well.
    Trail Miles: 3,715.9
    AT Trips: 67
    AT Map 1 Completion: 1818.9 Springer, GA - Franconia Notch, NH
    AT Map 2 Completion: 263.8 Gaps From GA - PA

  2. #2

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    I recently failed to summit a significant mountain based on my fear of exposure. I made it to within 800’ of the summit of mt Whitney when I encountered steep drop offs around the needles towards the top. I most definitely felt I let myself down but can’t be sure of that based on my condition. I was walking too fast and couldn’t catch my breath, and the sudden drop set me off. I sat and waited two hours for my friends to summit and return. My nerves were shredded after that, and can only say I didn’t summit because of a pre existing fear of heights led to a panic attack and impromptu “panic perch” while I waited. Didn’t try to descend alone. Didn’t think I could do it.

    I don’t hike out west but bet your bottom dollar I will do a better job mentally preparing for such things the next time I do go. I love hiking. One foot in front of the other, breath in and breath out!!

  3. #3

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    Wait, what was your struggle with?! You seem composed and seasoned!

  4. #4

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    My only anxiety on the trail is no trail markers for what seems to be a mile at a time.
    How much does a little paint cost to put a few more trail markers out there.

  5. #5
    Registered User SawnieRobertson's Avatar
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    They do not make appointments, and once they have your mind in their grip, you just have to sit down and breathe. Since it is unreasonable fear (to others), it is best not to explain. If I ever write a book about my trail experiences,I will give minute detail of the disgusting result of explaining what was going on. He went to someone else, and I could hear their remarks (not far away) about how THEY have faith in God and, therefore have no such episodes. Then the person with whom I had confided w ent approximately 3 miles ahead, where he gave detail of my "imbalance." He came running back to me as I approached the next shelter exclaiming"Are you all right???!!!" Of course, I was. I had managed to pass by the area that had suddenly terrified me. NEXT, a very pompous man to whom he had described my "insanity" came over to me to quietly tell me that I must leave the trail. I in effect just "called BS' and hiked on. That was over 20 years ago. No more episodes. I do employ avoidance at times
    You never know just what you can do until you realize you absolutely have to do it.
    --Salaun

  6. #6

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    What exactly are do you get anxious about?

    I use to be a very laid back, no problems kinda dude. As Ive gotten older and assumed more and more responsibilities Ive noticed anxiety creeping into my daily life. Its new for me and it sucks. Driving directly through one of the biggest cities in the country on my daily commute doesnt help either.

    CBD, breathing exercises and nature help me keep it at bay.

  7. #7

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    I have a fear of snakes. It’s an irrational fear. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a garter snake, a cottonmouth, or a rubber snake. All the lights go off in my brain (though I’m much better about non-venomous snakes than I used to be), and I do the heebeejeebies. In my area there are prairie rattlesnakes. At one park, Bighorn National Recreation Area, they are the most common snake. I have backpacked there once, in the spring, when it was below freezing. They also have bears and mountain lions. They actually have many mountain lions. I probably won’t go again because of the snakes. It’s a beautiful park. With many venomous snakes. I KNOW snakes are more afraid of me, yada, yada, but I think that only counts with a rational fear. There’s probably something in the DSM about the bright lights of an irrational fear blinding the appropriate response to a rational fear. In the mean time, I hike in Yellowstone. A couple of weekends ago I hiked on a trail that crossed a thermal area with no marked path, I passed a rather large pile of grizzly scat on the trial about 1/4 mile from the campsite, and that night I heard what I believe was a mountain lion (it was a call I thought was a weird elk call, but a friend sent me a YouTube of a mountain lion and that was what I heard). I was mostly comfortable tramping through an unmarked thermal area, and into the area of a grizzly and mountain lion. But I won’t be going to Bighorn Canyon until I’m sure the snakes have all gone “in” for the winter, if I ever backpack there again. And I won’t be doing the section of Yellowstone with prairie rattlesnakes, either. In the meantime, thermals, grizzlies, black bears, wolves, elk, stream crossings, and buffalo (the animals I am most afraid of in the backcountry because they are calm until they aren’t), ok.

  8. #8

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    This sounds like something way beyond most of our skill set. Start with your primary care doctor and take it from there. Intense anxiety is a nightmare, but it is treatable.
    "It's fun to have fun, but you have to know how." ---Dr. Seuss

  9. #9

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    I had a pilot friend advise me once to take three slow breaths thru the mouth if I ever felt panicked in the air.Supposedly it's an aviators thing,I wouldn't know as I never had to try it.However,I do know that I have personal indicators like sweaty hands when or if I get nervous.Chewing gum seems to relax me for some reason in stressful situations so I would recommend it.

    The best anti anxiety trick I have is to always have a plan B which usually includes turning around and going back the way I came or choosing another destination.Having an extra day's food in the bag or some survival gear while hiking or not always gives some comfort.For instance,in summer on a road trip I will have bottled water and at least an umbrella,warm clothes in winter etc.

    You might Google Lucinda Bassett and check out her site.

  10. #10

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    My SO deals with anxiety and panic attacks. Recently we went on a hike together (tough for her, ~12 mile round trip, 4,000 foot elevation climb) and at one point near the summit she started feeling off. We sat down for 30 min and she was very fearful she was about to have a panic attack and pass out. Luckily, she did not. It is very scary though because no cell reception and 6 miles back to the car.. Would have dealt with it as it came but luckily she made it through. I do not deal with anything like she does and I don't have any answers, but know you are not alone.

  11. #11
    13-45 Section Hiker Trash Berserker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gambit McCrae View Post
    I just got back from a 70 mile trip to New Hampshire. What has been a trip that I have dreamed of for years turned into a mental nightmare of anxiety and panic attacks for no reason. This happens to me every morning on the trail, on trips that are new or of "importance". This anxiety has followed me through life with school, finances, career, family. It has been extremely difficult to overcome and I am tired of sweeping it under the rug and "dealing" with it. I don't deal with it, I endure it. I hope people will read this and it encourages them to seek help as well.
    So it sounds like from your last sentence that you have already seen someone about this? I assume you have, and if not you should. I'm no doctor and am not giving medical advice, but from personal and second hand experience I can tell you that depending on the severity it can be managed in multiple ways ranging from coping techniques to full time medication.

    At any rate, I don't like to go into details of my personal struggle with this on public forums, so just know you aren't alone. Those who don't have anxiety issues don't understand that it's a struggle because the things that set us off don't make logical sense to others or even ourselves, but that's just the nature of the beast.
    AT: 2007-2019 (45 sections)
    JMT: 2013

  12. #12
    Registered User LittleRock's Avatar
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    Sorry to hear your trip got cut short, but I'm glad you were able to realize you needed to stop, and really glad you chose to talk about it. Anxiety isn't something you should have to deal with alone.

    My wife has dealt with anxiety as long as I've known her. I'll echo Berserker's comment, it's really hard for people who don't deal with it to understand. I made a lot of ignorant mistakes thinking I was trying to help her early on, still do occasionally. In the end seeing a mental health professional ended up being the best solution to help her cope with it. I really hope you're able to find something that works for you.
    It's all good in the woods.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gambit McCrae View Post
    anxiety and panic attacks for no reason.
    Ah, but there absolutely is a reason... do yourself a favor, stay clear of psychiatrists (you donít need drugs), but find a reputable psychologist, someone with a Freudian/Jungian background... plain old fashioned talk therapy will bring relief.

    Best Wishes.
    Last edited by BradMT; 09-10-2019 at 20:38.

  14. #14
    Registered User Tuxhiker's Avatar
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    I have a fear of steep dropoffs on the road or trail. I live in Mississippi so dont have much exposure to them. I'm hoping I will get used to them when I start hiking the AT after retirement next year. If i dont get over that fear, I may try hypnotherapy.

  15. #15
    Registered User Debbie's Avatar
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    I’m so glad to see this discussed. I too have suffered from an anxiety disorder since my teens and had to seek professional help. This is definitely a case of “hike your own hike” in that different tactics work for different people. In my case medication was needed. The good news is it can be managed. I just completed the AT by sections, a 22 yr journey that would not have been accomplished(not even the first step) without treatment.
    No, people who don’t suffer from it don’t “get it”. I do. Just adding my voice for support and encouragement.
    Let’s all “call out BS”(thank you for your post Sawnie) and don’t be afraid to discuss this.
    "Sea Eagle"

  16. #16
    Rain Man's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Debbie View Post
    Letís all ďcall out BSĒ(thank you for your post Sawnie) and donít be afraid to discuss this.
    Hear, Hear!!! Good for both of you.
    ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: ... Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit..... Numbers 35

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  17. #17
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    Have dealt with it over the years myself. I still have some struggles on the trail. Hang in there.

  18. #18

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    40 years ago I started going to the woods because of my anxiety. It's a peaceful, solitary and healing place for some people---despite the rattleheads and coppermouths.

    And yes, I just got back from a long backpacking trip and saw two pit vipers---one of which I nearly stepped on. It's the price of admission.

  19. #19

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    For what its worth, I had similar symptoms a year or so ago in different locations and settings. I ended up seeing a therapist who gave me some tools to use that work well to relieve these attacks. What causations there are can be many, Ferral Bill is right, its something that is likely beyond most skill sets to determine. The good news is, there are some fairly simple tools that can be used to help control this and a little therapy may bring the driving issue to the surface so it can be dealt with.

    Good luck!

  20. #20

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    I just carry a bottle of fireball. It can do wonders in overcoming fears and even common sense.
    ./~Hi ho, hi ho, it's up the trail I go ./~

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