“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn, so climb that goddamn mountain!” – Jack Kerouac
For many of us, climbing a mountain might be a metaphor for attaining some form of success. However, it could also be a metaphor for overcoming our fears and the uncertainty of life. It’s especially relevant today while we continue to grapple with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. But in difficult times, there are opportunities for personal growth and building resilience, no matter your age or state of health. Studies show that periods of major setbacks in people’s lives like a divorce, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one, can force introspection and spur us to act upon long held goals or dreams in life. Similarly, an existential threat like the pandemic, or being diagnosed with a chronic disease, can remind us of our own mortality. This can motivate us to make healthier lifestyle choices or to simply change our behavior, making us a better person and the world a better place. During a crisis, the people who cope best are those who take good care of themselves, and also reach out to help others.
If I were to compare my own challenges to someone who has a debilitating childhood disability, or was diagnosed later in life with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), my difficulties pale in comparison. Writing and giving wellness advice might be the most challenging thing I do each day. This doesn’t come close to the challenges faced by a person with Parkinson’s, who might struggle brushing their teeth or putting their clothes on. As a Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) coach I find it very rewarding to help participants with PD utilize boxing and exercise to counteract their symptoms. They remind me of what true courage and perseverance means each time they show up for class. They’re not boxing or competing against each other, but rather support each other to keep fighting back against their disease and preconceived physical limits. They also find support from friends or family members who help out with my classes and offer encouragement.
Evidence shows that helping others is beneficial to your own health. “Putting other people’s needs before our own can reduce stress and improve mood, self-esteem, and happiness.” Volunteering in your community has similar health benefits. When you’re helping others you’re no longer thinking about yourself and your problems. Instead, you’ll be finding meaning and purpose in something bigger than yourself.
If anxiety or mild depression is keeping you from enjoying life more, remember that motivation often follows action, not the other way around. In other words, “you don’t need to feel good to get going; you need to get going to give yourself a chance at feeling good.” Research suggests that being comfortable all the time can give you a false sense of well-being. In actuality, it makes you less happy and can lead to poor physical and mental health. After all, anxiety can be described as the mind racing, while the body is sitting still.
It’s tempting to think that when you’re stressed, tired or in pain, the best thing to do is stay home and rest, but oftentimes moving your body is exactly what you need to feel better. It can also help manage your moods or a “woe is me” mindset. On the other hand, some people believe that in order to thrive and feel a sense of accomplishment, they need a “bucket list” experience like running a marathon or summiting a high mountain or some other epic adventure. It’s admirable to have such ambitions, but you can also find purpose in everyday routines. The next time you’re in a funk, get outside and go for a walk, or choose a small project around your house like decluttering and reorganizing your garage or office space, or doing yard work. You could also spend a couple of minutes on mindful breathing, or do 10 to 15 minutes of stretching or yoga. “Completing a simple, impactful task can build toward a sense of accomplishment”, which will often lift your mood.
No matter your age, or how great or small your quest might be, it’s time to stop thinking about it, and just act on it! Stepping outside to go for a walk or offering to help someone in need might seem insignificant, but doing it regularly can help you overcome anxiety and live a more meaningful life. Your achievement might not be that you climbed to the top of a mountain, but that you had the courage to take that first step on your journey.
If you’re grappling with a deep despair and are having trouble finding any hope, I strongly recommend you speak to someone—a therapist, clergy member, counselor, family member, or friend. Similarly, if someone you know seems despondent or hopeless, please reach out to them. In case you need it, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 800-273-8255.