Updated: Nov 1
Sometimes, when you feel like everything is against you, physically you've got nothing left, and emotionally you feel empty, there's a part of you, when you look for it, that's there. A 'reserve' if you like that says, 'I've got you, you are stronger than you think.'
As I climbed up mount Snowdon, on no sleep and an empty stomach my self-talk was, 'this is dangerous, don't do it.' My self-talk had to change if I had any chance of getting to the top. In the end, I kept saying to myself, 'you can do this, you're stronger than you think right now.' This positive self-talk got me step by step, up that mountain.
Here's how I made the positive switch and the lessons I learnt, so you can apply them to your own 'mountain climb.'
It's so easy to talk ourselves out of something. Especially when our anxiety is ruling the show. When anxiety is high all the fears in the back of your mind get louder.
After a serious health issue when I had two arteries in my neck dissect, I was told by doctors "don't raise your heart rate. You're high risk of stroke or a heart attack. Be careful and don't do anything 'risky.' "
Fast forward to now, my arteries have healed and so it's OK for my heart rate to be raised. I need my heart rate raised to exercise my heart muscle. It's good for me now. The healing is done physically, but the fear still remains, in the corners of my mind. As the day of the climb neared, I could feel my anxiety increase.
Unfortunately, when we're told not to do something, especially when we're in the midst of fear, it can stick as a program in our minds. The undoing of that program is what heals our self talk.
It was a seven hour drive to North Wales the day before which had depleted me emotionally and physically. Then, after the evening meal, I began to feel quite unwell. I have spoken before about my own journey with IBS in 'are your issues in your tissues?' and I soon realised that my digestion was not happy. I excused myself and retired for the evening early. A restless night was had with my stomach in knots which sadly meant I had very little sleep or rest.
As I've said in that previous blog our mind-body connection is so interrelated. When we are in a state of stress our cortisol and adrenaline rise. These are the hormones that keep us safe from a real or perceived threat.
Adrenaline makes the heart beat faster, causes blood pressure to go up, and gives you more energy. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream. This enhances the brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances in the body that repair tissues.
Cortisol also slows functions that would be nonessential or harmful in a fight-or-flight situation. It changes immune system responses, and suppresses the digestive, reproductive, and growth processes.
This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation and fear. This is why when we are in a heighted state of stress someone may seem like they are vague, angry, or seem to shut down.
So, as I had eaten when I was in this heightened state of stress, it's no wonder my digestive system was unable to process my food. I also felt 'out of it.' I used to work in the dental field where patients in fear would seem aggressive, uncommunicative or vacant. This understanding of how stress affects people can give us more compassion for normal human responses to fear.
We were only about a fifth of the way up the mountain and my internal voice (which was saying your heart rate is too high, you're going to have a heart attack, stop right now) got so loud I had to stop. The panic had set in. I was walking with some amazing ladies, in particular there was one lady who understood where my angst came from, she gave me reassurance that I was going to be fine.
It can feel vulnerable to do so, but we have to learn to communicate our concerns. I had confided my fears before the climb to her so, when she saw I was in need, she stepped in as my guardian angel. Her kindness and compassion was a huge comfort to me.
I also used my own tools to self regulate, breathing slow and steady, tapping (using EFT) through what I was feeling and these things enabled me to calm down. What I was doing was resetting my nervous system, out of fear and into a restful state.
Once the mind is in this calmer state the rational, clearer part of the brain can be heard.
I was then able to switch my internal dialogue from, 'you shouldn't do this' to, 'why shouldn't I do this? My heart is strong. I've been in the gym, I walk up Boxhill and I'm stronger than I think.'
Laterally something clicked. The rest of the hike was a challenge, that was the point. It wasn't so much a physical challenge, I'd been training for this hike, but a mental one. As long as I kept telling myself, 'you can do this'
I was going to be just fine.
I also gave myself permission to stop at anytime. Often we forget we can give ourselves permission to pause, take a break, rest, whatever we need. We look externally for permissions but we too can give that gift to ourselves.
I'm a great believer in self-advocacy. I know my own body and it's limitations. I also know its strengths. I paused when I needed to and I pushed when I felt I could. Some empowering tunes played by one of the ladies on our trip helped and ultimately my own self-talk got me up to the summit.
Lessons from the mountain:
Become aware of how you respond to stress and be kind to yourself. This may mean not eating in a stressed state, taking time to be still, quiet, do what you need to take care of yourself when under stress.
Communicate your concerns to others. People are not mind readers and the majority of people are kind and will show you compassion. We all need support.
Don't forget the tools you have to help support you in times of need. Using EFT and breathwork got my nervous system literally back on track.
Notice your self talk and switch it if you can. This takes practice, just like anything. But I'm living breathing proof it can be done and many of my clients, with my guidance, have done this too.
You are stronger than you think. If someone had said to me when I was laying in my hospital bed a few years ago, not moving much, scared and facing a life threatening situation, 'you'll be climbing a mountain in a few years,' I'd have been surprised, but also not shocked. I know I have a very strong resolve and an inner resilience of a lioness but sometimes life knocks us and we forget. This journey up the mountain reminded me of that lioness and she came back when I needed her. Remember that you have an inner strength that's way stronger than you think and braver than you know.
Now, go climb your own mountain, metaphorical or real, and I wish you all the inner strength you need to do so,
Thank you to The Nourishment Academy 💚 for your encouragement and support @thenourishmentacademy