Anxiety and the Outdoors
How my anxiety decreased working as an outdoor guide.
Anxiety was one of my earliest diagnosis back when I was 17. It hung around for a few years but between the ages of 21 to 25, it barely effected me at all. This is how that happened.
For me anxiety in essence is the fear of the unknown. If I'm going some place I've been before and I know where the toilets are, who I'm going to see and I can leave if I need to, it doesn't bother me as much. If I am going somewhere new where I don't know any of these things, its a bit more of a big deal. Studying and working in the outdoors industry involved a lot of unknowns but essentially through exposure, my anxiety almost disappeared.
When I was 20 I enrolled to start studying outdoor recreation and ecotourism. The course involved a lot of outdoor activities including hiking, paddling, climbing and abseiling and of course all the rescue and safety stuff involved in these activities. A year and a half later and I was working in the industry as a guide. The thing you learn quickly about the outdoors is there is a lot of unknowns. There are things you can control such as what you pack and what equipment you might use but a whole lot of other things you just might not know. What's going to happen to the weather, how safe is the planned campsite? are there going to be snakes? is the track clear and maintained or overgrown and filled with bushes.
All these issues come from any kind of activity in the outdoors but when I began working as a guide on school camps, in addition to these unknowns came the unknowns of working with a group of young people. Anything can happen, from injuries, evacuations, to group tensions, fears and difficult young people who don't want to be there. As a guide I was responsible for not only the physical well-being but also the mental and emotional well-being of my groups. There is a lot of responsibility and a lot of unknowns that typically would increase anxiety and camps rarely go completely according to plan. When you factor in all the variables including weather and ability of the group certain things have to be adjusted or completely rewritten. For anxiety this is essentially a living nightmare. No absolutes and a whole lot of uncertainty.
Despite the stresses and complexities that came along with this industry, through pure exposure, my anxiety disappeared for a few years. Many times I would rock up to a camp with no idea what I would be doing for the next week and then having programs be adjusted on the fly, all whilst keeping students and teachers at least relatively happy. I worked through entire camp evacuations due to weather, injuries, sick students, scheduling changes, logistical issues and more. The one thing that this taught me about myself however, is that I am capable.
At the beginning of my time working in the industry, I would often scrutinize my programs and maps, plan activities to do and run through scenarios in my head. By the time I started to leave the industry I didn't stress about any of these things anymore because time and time again things hadn't gone according to plan and I'd survived. I'd more than survived, I'd successfully guided groups through multi-day adventurous journeys, I'd handled emotional breakdown of students, I'd dealt with a wide range of ages, abilities and personalities and I'd had some of the most memorable times of my life.
So through all the hard work and stress and difficulties that were involved I discovered that I had no issue rocking up to absolutely whatever. I knew wherever I was going, what ever I was going to be doing, I'd be able to roll with the punches and survive. The outdoors taught me a lot but I will forever be grateful for its role in decreasing my anxiety and teaching me my strengths.