• emsteinbrink

What conquering my fear of heights taught me about life after a pandemic



Last weekend, I surprised my husband with a 3-hour adventure to celebrate our 14th anniversary that included zip lines and challenging obstacles all suspended high above the ground up in the trees. (For Omaha area locals, we went to the TreeRush experience in Fontenelle Forest, and I highly recommend!) We started with the low level yellow courses to gain our bearings, get familiar with the equipment, and gain some confidence in our ability to balance our way through the trees. After a few lower level courses, we were already having a ton of fun, flying through the challenges, and certain we were ready for more. In the back of my mind, I knew that the more difficult courses were even higher off the ground, and I was trying not to get prematurely psyched out.


Now, something you need to know about me is that I'm intensely afraid of heights.

In 2006, my husband and I climbed Half Dome in Yosemite National Park (where he eventually proposed). If you aren't familiar with the famous Half Dome hike, the last part of the Half Dome climb is the ascent up the backside of the "dome." The dome is so steep that they have to insert metal poles and cables on the side of the granite rock to assist you in the climb for the final 400 feet to the top. Hence, why they refer to it as "the cables."


Just before this final ascent to the top, we hit a pretty steep spot, and I became paralyzed by fear. Literally, paralyzed. I couldn't even move a muscle I was so incredibly scared. So much for my husband's plan to propose at the very top! Luckily, he was calmer than I would have been in that exact scenario, and allowed me to take a moment right there on the side of the mountain to regain my composure as other climbers stopped to ask if everything was ok. I finally mustered up the courage to go just a bit further, landing on a huge platform area just before you ascend the cables.


My husband... a smart man, decided to propose to me right there on the giant platform. It was the most amazing moment of my life, and the view was still incredible, even though I wasn't at the top. (I'm incredibly grateful for a couple who offered to take our photo right after we got engaged, and then emailed it to us after they got back to the ground. See photo below. This was 2006, people... we didn't have AirDrop back then!) A few moments after I say "Yes!" my husband continued on to the top of Half Dome, while I stayed securely in my flat spot.



Although I was proud of myself for doing such a difficult hike and it ended up being one of the best days of my life, I was frustrated that I didn't make it to the very top.

It bothered me that I let my fear take over when I knew the result (making it the top of Half Dome) would be an incredible experience I would never forget.


Almost as soon as we returned home, we started planning our second trip to Half Dome. The whole time psyching myself up to make it through the cables to the top. Sure enough, two years later in 2008, we returned to Yosemite with a group of friends and family. With a whole lot of courage, and support from my fellow climbers and husband, I'm happy to say I made it all the way to the top! I gripped those cables so hard my hands hurt for days. And I never once had the bravery to look backwards to the tiny people below on the platform as I climbed to the top, but... I made it.


Here's a few photos from that awesome day...




Fast forward to 2021, and here I am about to embark on the most difficult course that TreeRush Omaha has to offer (The NightHawk).

The highest off the ground, and the hardest course in terms of physical strength and balance. The staff warned us, the NightHawk was no joke and definitely deserving of it's difficulty level. About halfway through the course, I had reached a breaking point (physically and mentally). My arms were incredibly fatigued, and with every challenge we came to I was continually confronted with my fear of heights (although luckily, this time I didn't freeze in fear!)


The staff had told us before we started that there was a point in the course where we could escape - and end the course early if we felt it was too difficult to finish.

When we came to that point, I seriously considered taking the escape route. I didn't know if my body could physically go any further, and my mental game was starting to wane. I could see the final three obstacles ahead of me, and they looked challenging. And I was scared. Why couldn't they end the course with a few easy ones? After all the challenging obstacles we had already been through, I was craving a downhill slide. (The irony of that statement!)


In that moment, I remembered my first trip to Half Dome. I remembered that awful paralyzing fear, and how frustrated I was that I let that fear overtake me... and worse yet... DEFINE me.

I wasn't about to let my fear get to me again. And so I forged ahead. Instead of trusting fear and anxiety, I trusted my abilities. I trusted the equipment would hold me if I fell. I trusted my mental game. I trusted that old habits and ways of reacting in scary situation didn't have to define who I am today. I trusted ease.


Those who were nearby on the course that day surely heard me chanting to myself, "You can DO this." and "You are strong, Ellie." and, "It's only one more step." (Oh, and LOTS of cursing as I slipped and almost fell... sorry to the kiddos!)


Here's our smiling faces just before the TreeRush Experience. Sadly, I have no in action photos, as I left my phone in the car!



What hit me after our TreeRush experience last weekend is that all of us are experiencing varying levels of fear and uncertainty right now. Fear about re-entering society, fear about how to go back to work or if we go back to an in-office environment, fear about the awkwardness that will surely ensue as we start to re-engage with people in real life. Uncertainty about whether or not life will actually return to some normalcy again.


We are all craving for something to be easy... instead of yet another obstacle to cross.

And as silly as it seems, getting dressed for our "new" lives as we re-enter society can feel like yet another obstacle to cross. Much like my desire for the final few obstacles of my treetop adventure to just be easy, maybe you're wishing that something in your life right now would be a breeze. And honestly, even though there are many amazing wins as we (hopefully) round the final corner of this pandemic, I believe there are plenty of new questions and obstacles for us to cross as we look at how we are going to assimilate back into "normal" life. And if you're like me, you are wondering how much more we can take.


For some women I've spoken with about returning to "normalcy," they tell me it's stressful to think about dressing their body again (in real clothes, that is) because they have added some extra weight over the pandemic. Or, their work dress code has changed, and they are stuck with a wardrobe that no longer matches their needs. Still others have changed their view on what they love wearing every day - craving more comfort and practicality - because they had a taste of something different this past year.


All of this to say: Getting dressed should be one of the easiest things we do every day, but it's just another stress to add to the mix.

So as we re-enter society and start going back into our wardrobes, let me offer a few bits of advice:


1. Purge what you don't love.


Ladies, if the pandemic taught us nothing, it's that purging what isn't serving us or adding value to our lives is a necessity! Take a weekend to clean out your closet. Now is not the time to keep things that you don't love, that are uncomfortable, that no longer suit your lifestyle needs, or that don't fit. (Yes, I said it... get those too small or too big things outta there!)



2. Dress the body you have now.


Instead of hoping for things to change, to fit into your beloved jeans once again, or to lose those 15 pounds, how about dressing the body you have now? Wishing and praying for your body to be different will only result in a major hit to your confidence. Dressing your body in the most flattering way now will give you an extra boost of confidence and allow you to focus on how beautiful you are now... just as you are.



3. Write down 5 things you love about your body.


Something a good friend and client of mine - who is also an educational neuroscientist - has taught me is that what we repeat to ourselves is what sticks and becomes our truth, our reality. So, if day after day, we repeat to ourselves that we hate our bodies, or we tear ourselves for eating too many treats or snacks over the last year, our brains will perceive this as reality. We must be bad. Our bodies are not beautiful. We make poor choices.


Similarly, if I had chanted to myself high above the trees this weekend that "I am afraid of heights." or, "I'll chicken out just like I did before." or "I better stop here because I'm not sure I can make it." Well, you can guess the outcome of these repeated statements. I wouldn't have made it. I would have let fear conquer.


In order to flip the script, we have to change what we say to ourselves daily. Take a moment to think about what statements you make about yourself - as it relates to your body. What awful things do you say on repeat? Now, challenge yourself to rewrite that statement into something more encouraging or supportive. Then, repeat it to yourself daily, or whenever you have that negative thought. Your brain will eventually get the message. I promise! Science proves it.



4. Ask for help.


Why is asking for help so hard - especially for women? I have to be consciously aware of my tendency to take on too much, because I know it never ends well when I do. Is this true for you, too? This past week, I made the decision to rehire my cleaning lady. I had stopped the service when the pandemic started last Spring, and also had the benefit of my husband being home for almost the entire past year as he was put on a temporary leave. As things start to re-open, my husband's work will return to normal in a couple weeks, which requires travel 3-4 or more days a week.


One of the reasons I originally hired help for cleaning is because as a working mom, a lot fell on my shoulders to keep the house running while my husband traveled. And the days when he was home, I felt frustrated and stressed about spending my time cleaning instead of spending time together as a family the few days a week we had.


For many years, I gave myself a major guilt trip, convinced that asking for help was a sign of weakness, or that I showed that couldn't "do it all." (A ridiculous badge of honor I seem to chase after as a mom.) Then one day it occurred to me that I don't actually have to do it all. By hiring someone to help clean my house, I restored my sanity and freed up my time, while also supported a fellow woman's business and livelihood. Win win!


So if your wardrobe is already causing you stress as you think about re-entering society, then why not ask for help?

Listen, if you think hiring a stylist is a privilege of the rich and famous, you are wrong. My clients are made up of women of all ages and income levels and working situations, who are just plain tired of trying to figure it all out themselves. Instead, they enlisted help to look and feel their best daily, to not have to stress about where to shop or what things they should be buying. And the result? They freed up their time and mental space previously devoted to stressing about what to wear towards tackling whatever else is on their plate with confidence and ease. Now I call that a major win win.


If you're ready to ask for help with your wardrobe, I'd love to talk!

I offer a free 30-minute style consultation where we will chat about your wardrobe challenges and the vision you have for your style, and I show you a path to feeling100% confident in your body and getting dressed daily. I hope you take just this one thing off your shoulders.




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