So let’s go back to the rock climbing example. There are different levels of danger within rock climbing. There’s bouldering and gym climbing which are relatively safest. There’s top-roping with us also really safe but has some outdoor risk factors. Lead climbing comes with other risks like sprained ankles and bumps and bruises on a fall. And free soloing is very dangerous because if you slip or fall, you splat. Whether to climb and how to climb are choices within my control But all of these activities come with the risks outside my control like environmental conditions, falling rocks and risk of human error.
Alex Honnold chooses to free solo, he did what I think is the most impressive physical and mental athletic performance in history by climbing el cap without ropes. But in order to do that he risked falling to his death.
When I climb, I choose to rope up. I’m a very safe climber, I climbed for 5-6 years, 3-4 times a week (so thousands of times) without a single accident. But in order to climb I risk sprained ankles, rock falls, and the potential for rare equipment failure. For me that is my level of acceptable risk because climbing made my life better. It helps me think clearly and solve problems and develop grit and face my fears.
Some people choose not to climb, because it doesn’t add value to their life or the value it adds isn’t worth the pain or risk. That’s ok too. As long as it’s a choice.
I’ll use another example, I used to be quite afraid of spoiled milk. I had a bad experience once and ever after that, I was scared to drink milk after it had been opened for a couple of days. For years I just threw the milk out. This was probably an irrational fear, but with limited consequences. For me, it wasn’t worth it at the time and energy to overcome this fear because the costs were so low, that I was able to live a good life and not drink older milk. Wasn’t worth it for me to spend a lot of time facing that anxiety because the cost was like a dollar a week.
But with the dog example, if you are missing out on important things in your life, like visiting a family member with a dog, or avoiding going for walks out of fear of dogs, or running away screaming and crying from dogs that you see, then at some point, you have to make a conscious choice about what is most valuable for you. This is called Risk Acceptance, and it’s an important part of managing Anxiety.
If you don’t like dogs, you have no friends with dogs, you miss out on little because of dog-avoidance- then cool, make the choice to avoid dogs. But don’t let anxiety decide for you.
Everything has a risk you have to make choices about risk instead of letting anxiety make your choices.
Make choices about what you want your life to be about instead of simple trying to avoid anxiety. What do you want your life to be about? Choose to live life in a way that runs toward your values instead of simply away from discomfort.
Real quick side note. Just because something feels dangerous doesn’t mean that it is. The fear center of our brain is more instinctual than it is rational.
Sometimes what feels dangerous isn’t actually dangerous. So for example I worked at a program that did recreational therapy. We went climbing and rappelling. Hiking and biking and horseback riding. Rafting rivers and ropes courses. Guess which was our most dangerous activity? Driving. Statistically Just regular driving to and from activities was higher risk than the activities themselves. The second riskiest activity was horseback riding. But what feels the scariest? Rappelling. For sure.
Anxiety usually exaggerates the danger of certain types of activities. Heights. Wild animals and bugs. Social interactions. Just because something is Anxiety can inform you, but don’t let it decide for you