All summer long I’ve been dodging bears, real ones: bears on the golf course, bears on the trail while hiking in Denali National Park, bears in my backyard. And figurative ones: renovating our deck (a bear of a job that I’ve dreaded for ten years), procrastinating onerous tasks, or postponing long desired goals because I fear failure. Bears are everywhere.
I live on the edge of the Chugach State Park where it borders a greenbelt along the Eagle River. We humans are intruders here where salmon spawn and bears roam in search of food unfazed by fences and neighborhood streets. But we humans, stumbling upon a black bear in our garage pawing through our garbage or a grizzly strolling through our backyard, have the imagination to visualize Timothy Treadwell’s fate, or other scarred unfortunates who barely escaped with their lives.
When it comes to creativity a vivid imagination is a good thing but when it comes to anxiety,our human capacity to imagine the worst is the fount of all ulcers and panic attacks.
Yes, I read that in a book. Ok, so I paraphrase, or rather augmented upon. I’ve yet to read most of the book but the brief snippet I read from “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” pointed out that to survive danger our bodies are designed to get us either ready for a fight or ready to run. Which is all well and good if there really is imminent need. However, we can fake our bodies out by vividly imagining a crisis when there is none which sends our fight or flight response into an unhealthy feedback loop that literally eats us alive.
Thus, we get eaten by that imaginary bear (or threats of all kinds) over and over again without ever releasing the anxiety through a real fight or a burst of physical speed to save our skin. We are mauled daily by self-inflicted anxiety. The result: real pain and real wounds with nothing to show for it.
I’m not yet sure how to resolve this conundrum fully but I do know we suffer needless pain over threats that never fully or even partially materialize. I’ve given that anxious imaginary bear scores of premature meals. But no more. I’m closing down that not-so-free lunch.
And so I repeat advice given me many years ago: “don’t get eaten by a bear”.
Oh yeah, the deck. It wasn’t hard. It’s beautiful. What was I afraid of!