Doctors Of BC: Our Stories

Dr Erika Kellerhals, family physician, Quadra Island

April 1, 2022

I have struggled with social anxiety and panic attacks much of my life. Learning to live with my anxiety has led me to explore many coping strategies through the years. Nature has always been a part of my coping methods.

When I was in medical school, I went through a particular rough patch of having panic attacks almost everyday. On a weekend during this time, I went home to my family’s farm on Quadra Island. I connected with an elderly friend and she taught me some breathing and grounding exercises that involved visualizing myself as a tree and being deeply rooted in the earth. As I was learning this technique with my wise elder, I also picked up a small pebble from underneath one of the most majestic old Sitka spruces on our property. For many months after this, I carried this pebble in my pocket to all of my lectures. I know it sounds crazy but this little pebble - rubbing it in my hands - and my visualizations of this majestic tree literally saved me during a tough year of training.


Now, as more of an elder myself, post menopausal, and soon to be an empty nester, I have noticed anxiety rearing its head again. I feel it as a tension in my body, an early morning wave of cortisol rush and sometimes a sadness. I have more tricks up my sleeve these days but most of them involve my friends the trees.

My practice is almost entirely addiction focused and it has been a rough few years with the opioid epidemic and COVID-19. I know to the depth of my being, without spending time daily in the wonderful forested park behind my home in Campbell River, I might not have weathered these past challenges. It’s hard to explain all the reasons it helps me, and there are many books and studies on this topic, but suffice it to say, it’s the quiet, it’s the smell, it’s the endorphins, the calm presence of the gentle giant trees and the bird song.

I am blessed in life to have almost always been surrounded by nature to help me in my journey. As a doctor, and particularly as an addiction doctor, learning to live with anxiety has given me more gifts that I can pass on to my patients. If I can help my patients feel connected to their world and grounded with their knowingness, then I am hopeful they can find the healing they need.