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.