Anxiety Relief Through Hiking
March 3, 2017 / By Chris Oudean
This can be a tough time for individuals in the world. Political tensions are high; economic uncertainty is rampant; and racism, bigotry, and hypocrisy are ever present. Many people are dealing with these big worries on top of the smaller daily ones, compounding their anxiety. Wondering which school to place your kids into on top of worrying about the neighborhood’s ethical and moral compass can be quite confounding. In a world of ever changing challenges, you have to give yourself some time to breath. Taking a moment to absorb it all without new stimuli is an essential part of dealing with anxiety. That’s where nature can come to the rescue.
Nature harbors no biased opinion. It doesn’t care who you are, or what you’ve done. It draws no distinction between species, whether human or chipmunk. It is merely what happens when life is left to run amuck. Its beauty comes from its complexity without human design. Nature’s only rules are based on the fundamental laws of the universe and by extension, it reflects those laws. When enveloped by nature, you can feel the vast expanse of what humanity has not shaped in our image. The experience can make all of your daily concerns melt away. The significance of one full human life is dwarfed by the millions of years it took to shape mountains.
A person can easily get lost in the complicated navigations of life within civilization. We can forget the basics of who we are. Leaving the comforts of your home and your city to wander down a less travelled path can be a reset switch. A short walk or hike can be revitalizing, while a long tough hike can be life changing. There are people that exclaim that their life has completely changed after hiking long trails like the United State’s Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,659-mile trail that can take months to through hike.
“Hiking with mental baggage might as well be therapy.”
There are many trails, both long and short, within the US National and State Park Systems. President Woodrow Wilson did not create the National Park Service for monetary value. He was part of a collective of individuals that had a vision of protecting the natural treasures of this country. There was a sense of pride in the many beautiful places and scenic vistas. They recognized that nature was an integral part of humanity. It’s essential to the health of not only the world, but ourselves within it.
Hiking with mental baggage might as well be therapy. Without the distractions of daily life, all you have is the trail and your thoughts. Somehow, we instinctively recognize the purpose in this ritual. Our minds naturally begin to wander, while our bodies go into cruise control. After a while, you find your stride, and there is little to no conscious thought used to effectively traverse the many stumbling blocks along the way.
Letting your mind wander allows you to work through stressful moments in your life. The mind naturally wants to consider all possible outcomes. In my experience, the best way to allow this process to take place is with peaceful surroundings and quiet. Nature can be perfect for this. You may think sunny days would be best, but even rainy ones are excellent. The gentle breeze against your skin, the random pattern of raindrops falling, birds chirping, squirrels chatting, or the sound of your own feet shuffling the dirt are all perfect soundscape for introspective thought. Along with sounds, there are of course the views. There is an endless array of landscapes to envelope your eyes. The land has taken millions of years to develop, and as such, carries millions of layers of mystery and beauty with its many mountains and valleys.
All of this aural and visual stimuli brings a positive relaxing mindset. It’s rather difficult not to let your woes melt away. It has also been scientifically proven that physical activity increases brain efficiency. I extrapolate from this that contemplating and working through anxiety should be more effective while exercising. So in summary, while your body is getting in shape, your audio & visual cortices is being overwhelmed with relaxing stimuli, and your mind is efficiently working through your troubles. It’s a perfect recipe!
Another note is that there has been much study into the connection between exposure to natural settings and mood. Studies have shown that exposure to wild environments can stimulate a positive wellbeing. I don’t need a study to tell me this, but it’s worth noting. The funny thing is, they can’t exactly put their finger on the reasons. There is speculation between nature being a positive distraction and therefore distracting us from our woes; or there is the evolutionary link theory that after thousands of years, our minds are intrinsically linked to nature in a positive way. No matter how we try to shape the world around us, our primal brains will always yearn for nature because most of humanity’s history has lived within natural surroundings. Perhaps thousands of years in the future if we dissociate completely from nature, we will be rid of this primal link, but for now we’re stuck with being in love with it.
So, if you find yourself dealing with anxiety, try going for a brisk stroll on a nearby hiking trail. It may be just what you need to find your own relief. Your mind will always need a break from time to time to absorb and process the many stressful things out there. Let nature do what it does best.
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