Sunday, March 7th, 2021

R Shopper Columns


A real danger when we are under
this self-created stress is that
we are likely to make poor decisions.

When camping on the Appalachian Trail, I discovered that I have a strong fear of bears. The realization came during the first night. As we sat around the campfire, a friend who was very familiar with those mountains, announced, 'We know these woods are full of bears.'

Needless to say, I didn't sleep too well that night. I heard every noise.

The next day while hiking, we thought we saw a bear on the path ahead of us. My heart was beating wildly in my neck. I felt panicky because there was nowhere to run for safety. What do I do? Run? Play dead? What? Then I realized that what I thought was a bear was a log! What a change in my feelings! I had all the feelings for the log that I would have had for a bear. It was my perception that created all the fear and stress!

How many times in our life experiences have we created a tremendous amount of stress for ourselves because we have perceived a log experience as a bear? We turn logs into bears by the way we perceive our 'mistakes' or 'failures.' We do this when we magnify and catastrophize our failure and the possible repercussions. We turn our mistakes into 'the crime of the century.' We are like Chicken Little nervously running around screaming that the sky is about to fall. We imagine all the horrible things happening to us such as losing our job, being disgraced and being a failure. We go through a list of possible 'what-ifs.' These are the times when we feel powerless and insecure.

We turn ourselves into powerless people on death-row awaiting execution.

Of course, when we react to our failures this way, we have put a lot of stress on ourselves. Often it is needless stress because in reality most of the mistakes turn out only to be logs - not bears. Also when we do this, we minimize our resources and abilities.

A real danger when we are under this self-created stress is that we are likely to make poor decisions. Our decisions may be more emotion-driven rather than logically thought out.

It may be helpful for us to think of a 'repercussion scale.' Imagine the scale running from one to ten, one being the least repercussion that could happen when we fail. Ten would be the worst thing that could happen because of our mistake. On this scale, where does our mistake or failure fall? The problem for many of us is making a three into a ten.

When we make a three into a ten, we are making bears out of logs. But when we correctly assess the mistake, then we will have less stress. This is an excellent way to give ourselves a reality check.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700