How Hiking Saved Me From Anxiety and a Negative Mental Mindset
About 7 months ago my life had collapsed around me. The relationship that I had thought was most important in my life had self destructed leaving me alone and suffering intense consequences. For weeks after the occurrence I was completely lost in my life. It felt like my life no longer had meaning, I felt betrayed and confused, along with many other emotions. I was also very alone, living by myself for the first time in my life and had to adjust to the new way of life I was presented with. More then anything else, the loneliness put me in a negative mindset with lots of anxiety about the entire situation on top of the anxiety I was dealing with on a daily basis prior to the occurrence. I had never been diagnosed with chronic anxiety and had never seen a doctor for it, but had been on edge for years prior and knew there was always something off about the way I was feeling. Maybe that was due to the toxic relationship I was in, but that's besides the point.
It took me a week or two of dwelling after the occurrence to realize that I had to change something or the mindset I was in would become my norm. I knew I had to find something to distract myself from the way I was feeling so I turned to hiking and photography. This all happened at the beginning of October 2017, which is very close to the end of hiking season for most in Colorado, but for me, it was only the beginning.
If you didn't already know, hiking has scientifically been proven to decrease anxiety and improve mental health. Let me elaborate. The study I will describe demonstrated that a short 90 minute walk in a natural environment leads to measurable changes in the brain, and could possibly help combat depression. I'm not saying if you go walk in nature you will immediately feel better, but for the time you're in nature, it will change the way you think. Previous research has shown that even a 50 minute walk in nature can improve your mood, decrease anxiety, and even improve memory. The new study conducted by Stanford University took two groups of volunteers and had one group walk for 90 minutes in an urban setting and the other walk for 90 minutes in a natural setting. Prior to the walk they had their brains scanned and took a survey on their current mental health. The researchers found that those who went on the nature walk showed reductions in both self reported rumination (negative thoughts of the self) and in the profusion of blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (an area that lights up when somebody has ruminative thoughts). The research showed no changes in the urban walkers.
As you can see from the above information, hiking really can help your mental health. Even if it's just for a short time. Between the exercise hiking provides and the beautiful scenery, it really is a recipe for better mental health. The more you get out and hike whether its in the mountains, the desert, on the beach, wherever it may be, the faster you will find your mindset improving. Being in the presence of nature can really put life into a new perspective for you and help you find things you are grateful for. If you feel you are in a negative mental headspace, or you feel anxiety too often, then get up and get out into nature and experience for yourself first hand how hiking can benefit YOU and your mindset!
Written by: Mark Munson