By Hannah Slattery, LPC, NCC
As a novice, but avid, hiker I tend to enjoy spending time alone, with nature being my distraction. I enjoy the sounds of the crunch under my feet, the birds chirping and a calming bubbling brook. Now it wasn’t always this way. In the past, I have feared being with myself, with my thoughts, the all consuming feeling of my anxious mind. Most of us, sometimes unintentionally, are constantly seeking distraction from our daily stressors. Whether it be with people, TV or even books, we look to other noises to get outside of our own anxious thoughts. For me, I find hiking to be a welcomed change from this distraction-seeking coping skill. Taking a hike in the woods is an immersive, mindfulness experience that can be so healing. During my walks, I can embrace the thoughts and planning and maybe even work through to a solution to some of my worries.
Believe it or not, even in suburbia, there are lots of wonderful hiking trails in our area. However, it does not have to be a “hiking trail” to make for a productive mindful hike. Walking, by itself, is already proven to be good for your heart and lungs, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. But take that, and add trees, and fresh air and new places and you’ve got yourself a mental health win. Immersing yourself in nature can help you stay in the present, challenging yourself to notice your surroundings. By creating a goal of finding a new hiking location each time or learning about a new plant or animal that inhabits the area can be a part of the process. Most of us walk around with a buzzing in our ear from the constant connection to technology. But if you could, give your ears, your mind and your heart a break, what better place to do so than in nature.
Hiking can be a great opportunity to catch up with friends and while still practicing social distance. Hikes can be a space where you can connect with others without the distractions of technology. Have you ever noticed that conversations seem to flow easier while you’re walking or driving? Sometimes we need an activity to be doing while talking to others to remove some of the awkwardness or discomfort of direct eye contact. Going for a hike is a great opportunity to have a tough conversation, or deepen a relationship by letting conversation flow naturally while you walk together.
The goal of a mindful hike is to get yourself comfortable with your thoughts and outsource your need for distraction by embracing nature. By taking a brisk walk through the forest, a nearby park or even around your neighborhood you can give yourself the time and space your mind and body need. Not sure where to even start? Check out the app “All Trails” to help you narrow down appropriate hiking locations in your area. Remember that the goal is not to climb Mount Everest; start small and embrace nature with a simple walk, and you may feel inspired to try out a new hiking trail next.
If you or a loved one find your anxious thoughts to be all consuming, and need him developing more coping skills for this anxiety, contact us today to schedule a therapy session with one of our talented therapists.