Thursday, January 20, 2011

Conquering fears and anxieties

So this past Monday I had a lesson in conquering my fears and anxieties. I took the well deserved government holdiay to check out Inner Peaks, Charlotte's indoor climbing gym. I have been wanting to give rock climbing a try ever since I watched two American rock climbers take on Ninja Warriors (a must see televised obstacle course competition). I used to think rock climbing was all upper body - I had my doubts that my upper body to could handle my lower body – no comments from the peanut gallery, please.  I realized however that rock climbing works your upper body but it also requires a lot of power in the legs - holding, gripping, squatting, LAUNCHING all with your legs! I thought it would compliment my Saturday pull up sessions with the Aquageek while being a fantastic off season workout.

I knew I would get a good workout and I knew I would have a lot of fun but what I did not anticipate is how suddenly and overwhelmingly I would become afraid and anxious half way up the wall. I'm climbing, I'm laughing, I AM SPIDERMAN . . . and then suddenly I am just a piece of gum stuck against the wall. My palms start to sweat, my breath and heart rates double, and the thought starts creeping in . . ."I . . . CAN'T. . . DO . . . THIS . . .” What one sentence can be so evil - "evil like the fru-its of the dev-il?" (brownie points if you can you name the movie reference!) The whole experience got me thinking about fears and anxieties and the roles those emotions have on racing. My swim coach back in the day explained to me the difference between nervousness and anxiety. Nervousness is something you feel when you know you are not prepared for what is coming. Anxiety is the excitement you feel what you know you are ready but you are not prepared for the outcome. As I prepare for my races I suffer though nightmares (such as accidently shaving my legs too early - or taking a 15 minute transition because my goggles don’t match my outfit - situations that should strike fear in the hearts of all sane people) and stomach butterflies so severe I can't eat without gagging. In times like these, I have to stop and analyze my feelings. Am I nervous or am I anxious? And once I answer that question I wonder is it ok to be nervous or anxious in this situation?

The biggest thing I took away from my rock climbing experience (other than it is great fun and a great workout!) is that it is ok to be anxious of the unknown but it is not ok to be paralyzed by your own fear. As I was stuck high on the wall I could either stay there too paralyzed to move or I could reach for that next hand hold. If by reaching for the hand hold I fell from the wall I could falter, swing wildly back and forth, but I could try again.  I could learn from the path I had taken – I could recognize where my confidence was replaced by fear and push past it. Or maybe I take a chance and grab the next hand hold suddenly realizing it was not the leap of faith I thought it was and I can shimmy to the top and bask in victory! If I stayed, suspended high in the air and stuck against the wall surrounded by a shroud of fear, I would eventually fall from the wall exhausted, fatigued and dejected. Most importantly, I would leave the wall having learned nothing about the wall and nothing about the victory I was capable of achieving.