Thursday, December 30, 2021

Managing Riding Anxiety With 21st Century Science and Two Thousand Year Old Wisdom

Have you ever known anyone who had no problems with fear or anxiety in any other aspect of their lives, only when it comes to riding a horse? 

I have not. 

 Anxiety around horses is generally the tip of the iceberg. Deeper fears of everyday life experiences generally haunt such people. They may be good at hiding it. They may be not only functional, but successful. 

But they worry. They might mask the fear with alcohol. They might live their lives in full pursuit of "control", of making rules that somehow will take the risk out of risky situation. As they get older, they are more and more likely to fall into avoidance behaviors. They make the horrible mistake of labeling themselves as "introverts" or other convenient labels that explain their avoidance behaviors. and the inevitable social isolation that it produces. They procrastinate because making decisions is stressful.

Many people desperately want to ride but their fear holds them back. They need to ride, but their fear holds them back. They could achieve enormous personal breakthroughs, but their fear holds them back. 

Some people push through it. They admirably build the courage to ride and the more they ride the less anxiety they feel. They start to see improvements in other parts of their lives. But the monster of anxiety and its fellow traveler, depression, continue to dog them--though admittedly to a lesser degree. 

And here is where groundbreaking new understanding of the links between the body and the mind come into play. While learning to increase skill and confidence with horses, one can also take on the entire monster of anxiety. 

And I do not mean just with counselling and medication, although I am a strong supporter of both counselling and medication. There are other lifestyle changes that can bring peace and calmness to anxious, ruminating minds. 

Read all of this before you give up and decide that these steps could never help you.

The first step is to learn everything that one can about the workings of anxiety, its relation to past trauma and what fuels the fires of fear. Then be bold and look at the impact that avoidance behaviors have had on one's life. The only thing good about living in a prison cell that you constructed for yourself is that you can understand its design and can use that knowledge to burst free.

Nothing is better than working with a first-rate counselor. For various reasons that might not be possible for everyone. The good news is that there is some great science out there concerning how the brain works and how to make it work better that can be found from Andrew Huberman of Stanford University that is easily accessed on YouTube as are a great set of videos called Therapy in a Nutshell.

Studying Huberman's work will give one an understanding of how exercise and nutrition can be two of the biggest weapons that one has to overcome depression and anxiety. This is especially important as the world struggles with the virus and as we are just beginning to understand the incredible damage done to young minds by the dopamine flooding that results from video games, internet pornography, and the tyranny of social media. 

But humans do not face new problems. We only face new variations of old problems. As a child Harry Tuman thought about this and decided that all he would have to do is learn all of the history that has been written and it would give him all of the answers to vexing situations as they arose in his future. It was a profound, yet not practical, thought for a small child. 

We cannot read all of the history that has been written but we can read and learn from a handful of writers that made up the Stoic system of learning and we can see that their teachings directly apply to life in this century. It has been said that cognitive behavioral therapy is rooted in Stoic thought. Take a look at Ryan Holliday's great site, The Dailey Stoic and you will find some of the clearest direction for living an ethical, fearless and peaceful life that one will ever find.

It is sad that nearly everyone who rides horses goes through life without learning what the experience can truly do for them, mentally, physically, and even spiritually. Such people are like those who never learn the taste of an onion because they only eat the thin skin of the plant.

It does not have to be that way. 

You can change. And a horse can help you change.

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