When you do field work for biology research you have to be more than okay with nature. You have to be willing to get dirty, scraped, bitten, and in my case surrounded by insects. I’m pretty comfortable with immersing myself in nature. As long as I don’t spent too much time thinking about the ticks potentially crawling up my back I have a good time in the field. Nonetheless despite how comfortable I am with arthropods, the other day I did see my first snake in the field. A small, non-venomous snake sure, but as much as I love nature, snakes slithering in the dirt I’m walking on are still going to be a bit creepy.
I noticed that after I saw this snake I was being much more paranoid as we walked along a path. I kept my eyes down the whole time scanning for more snakes to avoid. However, months of ERP and CBT training have taught me that this was not how I should respond. Instead I should hold my head up high, not scan the ground for snakes, and take on the uncertainty that I might step on a snake. So I faced the uncomfortable anxiety and I did just that. I forced myself to keep looking up for the rest of the walk back out of the field.
The moment I looked up I saw the most beautiful butterfly. And after that the beautiful sights just kept coming. By looking up instead of at the dirt I could admire all of the flowers, birds, clouds, and lovely, non-creepy nature around me. If I had stayed with my head down I would have missed all of this.
I saw this experience as a metaphor for anxiety in a broader sense. Anxiety shrinks our worlds to fit in a very small comfort zone. It limits our experiences and allows us to only see a small part of what’s going on around us.
Once we face our anxiety though rather than avoiding, the discomfort seems to be worth experiencing a much “bigger world.” And of course the anxiety always fades with time anyway. By the end of the path that snake was long gone from my thoughts.
Take the risk and an opportunity to look up today. Who knows what else you will see.