Lessons Learned on the Trail

  • Stephanie Barnett

The Nature of Reaction

Updated: Mar 21

"How you do anything is how you do everything..." ~ Unknown

Imagine - spring is on the horizon. Birds chirping outside the window in the morning, milder temperatures, blue skies and sunshine, a light breeze.

Did you just take a deep breath in? Me too.

It was that kind of day. I had looked at the weather forecast in advance, picked the day, and planned for extended time outside solo-hiking one of my local trails. After seeing my husband off for the day, I packed my gear and headed out.

Today was going to be a good day. I arrived at the parking area, grabbed my daypack, texted my husband to let him know I "hit the dirt" and headed off. It was 8:51am.

This trail was not unfamiliar to me; I'd hiked it several times. I knew it would take about a mile before the road noise would begin to fade, and I would encounter small groups of "regulars" hiking or mountain-biking throughout the 6-7 miles I had planned. With plenty of turns, varying elevation, and roots and rocks to keep a look out for...I was prepared mentally, physically, and emotionally for the route.

So, when I was 3/4 of a mile in, I looked a few steps ahead of me, noting the switchback I was approaching, and as I heard something off to my right, I quickly tried to glance in my peripheral vision to see what or who might be in my happened.

The "pop!" was audible as my right ankle aggressively rolled under my weight. "Oh sh*t!," I thought to myself as I caught my breath, tried to correct and fell forward, ultimately landing on my left knee. As I started to rise from all fours, I felt my chest tightening, I took a few short panicked breaths, looking down at my legs - dirt covering my left knee, a tear in my favorite hiking leggings, and my right ankle already showing some redness.

Luckily, I could get up quickly and hobbled to a log just off trail and sat down. Still shaking from the shock of the fall, I momentarily let out a frustrated growl.

"Take a few deep breaths, Stephanie," I thought to myself.

My body relaxed a bit, but still showed signs of uneasiness. I refocused and looked around me. I could hear voices from a group of people in the distance coming my way.

Before the approaching group got to me, I needed to know if I could put weight on my ankle. If I could, I would have them pass and I'd hike out on my own. Anticipating pain, I took a few more breaths and lifted myself up, the majority of my weight on my left, then I slowly shifted weight onto my right side. No pain with the added weight, just a bit of tightness.

The group of 6-8 people were walking toward me now, and as I stood there I greeted them as they passed by in twos and threes, not calling attention to my injury (nothing to see here!).

"OK, good. Maybe I can keep going," I thought. That desperate thought quickly shifted to rational thinking. Even if I'm not experiencing pain right now, continuing would not be in my best interest - there would be potential for more falls, and if it began to hurt much further in, then I wouldn't have the option of getting myself out on my own.

It was decided, I was turning around. It was 9:10am - 20 minutes into the beautiful day I had planned.

I'll stop there, because this few minutes of time demonstrated for me the importance of understanding how you react when under stress. It's the one area where I think people feel out of control the most, and don't realize they have a choice in everything - even in those high stress moments.

What if I told you, you could have a tangible view of your way of "being" when it comes to experiencing stress currently, and with higher levels of awareness and practice, you can shift from a stress reaction to a more consciously driven stress response - where you reclaim control in the matter?

To demonstrate, here was the stress response I experienced during the event above in a bit more detail:

- Victim: chest tightening, thoughts included, "I'm alone." "Why did this have to happen today?" "Why does this always happen to me?"

*takes a deep breath*

- Fighter: Grumbling out loud, thoughts included: "Why were you so careless? "What were you looking at?" "Why didn't you bring your trekking poles/wear boots with ankle support?" "You're so stupid - now the whole day is ruined."

*takes a deep breath*

- Rationalizer: My body relaxes a bit, thoughts included: "It's not smart to keep going, even though I want to," "I'm doing the responsible thing," "I should call my husband."

Those three responses happened naturally, but I was more easily able to transition from one to the next by (1) being aware of them as tangible responses to look for, and (2) through an identified strategy of taking deep breaths to calm myself down.

I first learned about how I react to stress when I was in my coach training program. When I was introduced to the Energy Leadership Index assessment (ELI) I was blown away. My first response was, "I wish I'd known about this a few years ago!" With new information about different levels of energy and measuring how it changed when I experienced stress, I was able to better identify and tackle things that were getting in my way. I went from total reaction, to focused and intentional choice in how I responded under pressure - even when things were uncertain.

Interested in experiencing the Energy Leadership Index assessment, yourself? Contact me and I'll send you information on how to schedule your session!