Wilderness Medicine for Transition

Uncategorized Dec 01, 2020

Moving forward in times of transition, you might get the overwhelming need to create a safe bubble and hide for a time, or to stop moving forward all together. Yours may look different than mine (Beth’s), but I identify that feeling as fear turning into escapism.

If we think of that fear as a person, and I name mine Ellie, short for Elusion, we might be able to give them a little bit of support and gain understanding rather than letting the fear overtake us. In the end of that alternative process, we both win.

So how might we provide support and understanding for the most uncomfortable parts of ourselves during a transition? I’ll bring in the components of psychological first aid, from my training as a Wilderness First Responder.



The first component of psychological first aid is to Create a Sense of Safety. Just repeating "you are safe," and that someone is here to help, will bring a patient into the present moment. It signals to the "fight or flight" system that it's time to rest. 

When our friend Ellie shows up and wants to remind us of all the fuss moving forward will cause, get them into a safe space. Be somewhere that comforts you and feels cozy and stable. Make sure you’re physically comfortable - warm, full-belly, relaxed. Then, consider some time for personal reflection, mindfulness meditation, or breathwork. This will help you focus on the safety of the present moment, putting the shameful past and anxious future aside. 

You might even use a mantra like "you are safe" to repeat to yourself throughout your self-checkin, reminding Ellie that they are safe in the present moment.


The second component is to Create a Sense of Calm. Speaking and acting calmly shows a patient that you are confident, and they are safe. If you’re panicking and freaking out, then so are they.

When I was about 10 years old I taught my baby sister, about 6 years old, how to use a vegetable peeler and instructed her to move the tool away from her hand as she peeled our apples. Of course, a few moments later she calmly approached me with a sliced finger. Instead of going to get her bandaid and helping her wash it out gently, I started SCREAMING. I remember seeing my little sister’s eyes get wider as she watched me, her mind quickly assuming that I was that upset because she’s actually going to DIE from this cut, and she started crying hysterically. I’ve learned better since then.

Similarly, when Ellie shows up, panicking and screaming at them to go away will only make the situation worse. Instead, you can get into a practice of smiling and welcoming them. It sounds strange to welcome unpleasant feelings, but that’s exactly what Ellie needs.

Ellie exists within you, and you can give them permission to take up space.



When welcomed, Ellie can even work with you to accomplish your goals. That’s the next component of psychological first aid, Create Self and Collective Efficacy.

Ellie needs to be reminded sometimes that you must do hard things to your desired goals. It can feel uncomfortable and unpleasant. The process is tough. And without those tough feelings that Ellie brings, the end goal won’t be truly rewarding.

Enlist Ellie’s help! This is a great time to make a list of your strengths, and how each strength will help you move forward. When Ellie shows up with an easy way out, hand them some of those strengths to use, and make them an active part of your team.



Get to know Ellie. They are here to try to help you, so take some time to work to understand - what is there under the fears coming up? 

What might your body need from you right now? Spend some time in relationship and inquiry and see what bubbles up. Try this with an exercise called Focusing, by Eugene Gendlin.

You might even make up your own name for your personal Ellie, and connect even deeper by naming them.


No matter how unpleasant and impossible this process may seem, there are at least small actions you can take to keep moving forward. Identify attainable, realistic next steps without biting off chunks that are too huge or promising Ellie too much. Then work toward them. 

“Attainment,” that “A” in SMART Goals, doesn’t seem to be defined in a way that makes it OK to take baby steps. So, I offer another metaphor from my experience as a kayaking instructor to describe how small these steps should be. 

When you are kayaking on a river, sometimes it can be very difficult to make your way UP river on fast-moving water. When a kayaker needs to jump their way up-river, it's called attainment. So when I hear attainable steps toward your goal, this is what I like to think of. 

The water is moving fast, and if you try to make it the whole way to your destination you're going to tire yourself out too fast, and probably end up stopping paddling and just floating back to your starting place. 

When you successfully attain upstream, you identify the next calm pocket of water you can see, or an eddy, and you put yourself out into the fast moving current for as little time as possible before finding rest in that eddy. You do that again and again until you reach the place up-river where you were trying to go. 

You cannot see your final destination from down-river, but the closer you get, the clearer your path will become. Each attainment will look and feel like very small steps to you - possibly not even like you're making progress at first, but after a time they'll bring you a long way toward living your true adventure.


I've had to spend a lot of time administering psychological first aid lately. My Ellie (a she/her) is part of me, and I love her when she shows up. That's the only way we can effectively work together instead of butting heads.

What is your Ellie’s name, and when do they tend to show up? Please comment below on how they respond to your psychological first aid!!


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