Ghosts, skeletons and zombies in the graveyard. Vampires, mummies, monsters, creepy clowns and witches lurk around each corner. Your heart races. Blood pumps rapidly through your veins. Breaths are shallow and more frequent. Boo!
Halloween for many includes an aspect of scaring ourselves and others. Haunted houses, gory costumes and make up, playing into fears of spiders, scorpions, snakes and bats. The holiday is a good opportunity to look at some phobias that haunt us throughout the year.
How about this: you are walking along a trail and come to a wide meadow. It’s overgrown with waist-high grass. Are you afraid of what might hide along the path? A rattlesnake! Ticks! Poison oak! A mountain lion!
Many people fear elements in nature and consequently avoid contact with the wild outdoors. These nature-phobic folks miss out on experiences which provide benefits for the mind and body. By recognizing, learning about and then challenging these fears, we become stronger and more resilient individuals.
First, identify and acknowledge the concern. In the ocean, are you scared of a shark attack or being stung by a sea jelly? Perhaps it is a fear of drowning or the unknown of what lurks in the depths.
In the forest, what causes anxiety? Bears, a skunk, biting and stinging insects such as yellow jackets, bees or red ants? Even plants can be scary: poison oak, stinging nettles, vines with thorns, brush with burrs.
In a wetland, do you fear mosquitoes or leeches? Is it dirt, microbes, or the dark that you dread?
The next step is to gain knowledge of your source of trepidation. Know about how to be safe in the wild. When crossing the meadow with the tall grass: be vigilant, make noise when going through thick brush to scare off animals that might be a threat, know how to identify dangerous plants, do a tick check for your personal safety.
Finally, challenge those fears regularly so they don’t inhibit you from opportunities to experience wonder and adventure. Fears are learned and with enough exposure, one builds up tolerance. Pushing past fears empowers, instilling confidence to take on challenges.
At Halloween – once a year – find fun and joy in the fright of the fantastical as coffins spring open and ghouls jump out of the dark. But when the holiday is over, let us not be afraid of the wild and natural. Instead of living in fear, live bold, strong and resilient. Less stress, less anxiety. More joy, more fun.