Why You Can’t Always Trust Your Feelings

Few things are as creepy as walking in the forest after dark and if you’ve done so, you will undoubtedly have experienced the prickly feeling of being watched.   All manner of creatures can watch AND stalk you if they so wish, here in the Pacific Northwest.  Creatures like bears, wolves, the mythological Sasquatch and even humans with bad intentions can creep up on you but they yet to stop me from trekking through the forests.  However this week I find myself paralyzed by cougar warnings.  Paralyzed, because after one too many clues that cougars are using ‘my’ forest trails, I have not been walking as much as I want to.  There’s a cougar warning in effect for the entire region which is unusual because normally they prowl around in the higher elevations and not so close to, or in, the suburbs.  Although humans are far from their usual prey, we have been cautioned to stay away from the forest at dusk and if you’re a reader of this blog you will know how that saddens me.  I love my forest walks and am not afraid of bumping into a black bear but a cougar…well, they attack from behind, so that’s a whole other story.  A neighbour lost her cat to a cougar earlier this month, and another neighbour complained on national television that their resident raccoon family is ‘missing’.   Let’s hope they just packed their bags and moved to Toronto.


The sudden onset of cougars, coupled with my fondness of watching ‘survival’ shows like the new one currently on the History channel called ‘Alone’, in which ten guys decide to survive alone, in a remote part of Vancouver Island with only wolves, bears and cougars as company, has done little to abate my anxiety and has me thinking a lot about feelings and how feelings can get in the way of a good time.  If you’re a wilderness camper you will know exactly what I am talking about. There you are lying on your bed of grass, or if you’re lucky in your sleeping bag, in the still dark night listening, because what you hope to do, what you’re trying to do, is to familiarize yourself with the night sounds; the wind moving through the trees, the small night creatures rustling through the leaves and the grass..when suddenly you hear something you ‘feel’ is off – or dead wrong.   You hear what you think is the snapping off and breaking of tree limbs, the screaming of a child, the hollow moans of forest-dwelling ghosts and you’re up and in a frenzy and you’re recording a last message to your loved ones on your mobile because at any moment, a grizzly is going to tear open your tent and sink his teeth into one of your flailing arms or a cougar is going to crash this party and take you by the neck…

And it all started with a feeling which bubbled into a thought generously drizzled with imagination that turned into a negative belief.

Have you had this happen to you?  Have you fled a campsite, a house or an area because of your ‘feelings’ and in hindsight realized you had behaved irrationally? 

I’m not saying ignore your gut feeling about someone or something (I like to think I’m highly intuitive) but don’t confuse feelings with facts.

If you wrestle with anxiety you will know this better than most because when you’re in the grip of a panic attack it feels like you’re going to die and your mind believes it, but it’s not real.  You’re not going to die. What you’re experiencing is a rush of adrenalin and a spike of oxytocin and cortisol and you need to turn that feeling of impending doom on it’s head.   For the science behind this and some helpful tips watch Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk here.

18 thoughts on “Why You Can’t Always Trust Your Feelings

  1. We are currently under a severe thunderstorm warning, Yolanda. I can’t even imagine being under a cougar warning. Please be safe and avoid the paths at dust…at least for now. As for walking in the woods after dark…not this girl. I’ll stick with a daytime walk on the beach. 🙂

  2. Yolanda, hi! I like how you told this first part about the eminent and real danger of cougars in your woods. No, you must not go alone into woods. So sorry about kitties being devoured. Anneli was talking about black bears in her woods nearby on her blog… Yikes!
    Then, second: anxious feelings which may not be based on facts. Taking a deep breath and then, trying to face parties or social settings which overwhelm you by setting a time limit. On how long you will stay based on fear is a good suggestion or possible solution.

  3. It seems you must walk a fine line between trusting you are safe and not listening to mindless fears – but also being sure you are safe! I cannot imagine what it must be like to dwell among wild carnivores – for me I might get bowled over by a raunchy kakapo if I go too high into the wilderness after nightfall – or maybe one of those poor sad severely damaged folk who are found everywhere on the planet it seems – but no wild carnivores. I hope you can soon continue your soul pleasing walks and feel safe while doing so. Take care!

    • From years in Africa where I had my fair share of encounters with dangerous animals to this 😀 ah well, it does gladden my heart to know cougars etc all thrive here. As for walks, it’s going to have to be on the beach but we’re in the grips of a heat wave so not great either. Raunchy kakapo! LOL

  4. I like that Ted Talk, Yolanda 😀

    I know we have a lot of deadly creatures in Australia, but we don’t have cougars, bears, or lions. I don’t think I would do my dog walk in the afternoons if i thought I was going to come across something bigger and me. I actually think you’re really brave walking those trails!

    I have fled my house because I have an extremely irrational fear of storms. I’ve had this fear for about 30 years and it was only last year I realised it’s not uncommon and is called ‘Storm Trauma’. It happens when we are young or feeling vulnerable and experience a terrifying storm incident. No matter what anyone says to me or how confident I feel – I still can’t get rid of this irrational fear. I’ve tried a lot of things (even hypnotism) and can’t seem to shake it – but I’d love to 😀

    • Not sure your fear of storms is irrational Diane 🙂 as I have the same fear. I came close to being struck by lightning twice! so you can imagine. I’m glad you enjoyed the TED talk – I found it very helpful in dealing with my general anxiety but I’m still scared of cougars (and large cats) and am hoping they’ll move away soon.

  5. Not the kind of situation I put myself in. Does hearing the sprinklers go off at night count? 😉 The closest in my adult life was a tent cabin at Yosemite hearing a bear walk around and the pebbles falling off the cliff face. (Next row of buildings had been shutdown due to rocks falling off cliff face.)

    • Bear ‘trouble’ is very common up here Lynn so am very used to them although I admit it is still very unsettling hearing them move about in our garden but since they’re not ‘sneaky’ like cougars I am avoiding the forest trails for now 😦

  6. I’m surrounded by forest, and still I feel the goosepimply fleshing of fear whenever I have to go beyond the first stand of trees after dark. Yikes! I want to see before being seen. It’s just creepy. And forget about camping. Give me a nice heated/cooled room with running water and electricity and plumbing. Yes. And the only cougars you need to fear there are the ones trying to pick you up in the bar. LOL.

  7. Fear is an horrible emotion. I remember as a kid always worrying when my parents went out in the evening. They were sociable folk and went out often. Us kids were looked after by our Grandmother so my fear of my parents never returning was irrational. But even more irrational was the ritual I performed to persuade myself they would be coming back that evening was to go and check that their toothbrushes were still in their bathroom. I think these days I’d be recognised as having ‘separation’ issues.

  8. I thought I was reading an adventurous novel with a hint of horror.. 😀
    I’m not easily afraid in the wild.. although at night hmm.. It’s wise to keep your cool – don’t letting the fear take over the joy but nonetheless being vigilant and use common sense.

  9. I used to get unreasonably frightened once in a while when I was a kid. I suspect I still would get the same way if I was alone more often. You made me anxious just reading this!

  10. We don’t have predators like these in our forests Yolanda, but even so, it’s easy to become spooked walking alone in the woods – even during the day. I hope the cougars move peacefully on and you can return to your dusk walks.

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