Sometimes my thoughts go rogue. The voices in my head become so seductive and full of stories that are a disservice to my mental health and seem so real. The constant doubt, worry and fear. Pressure at work, in life, to be perfect, to be the right person. It takes over you, it becomes you, until you've lost you're identity to depression, anxiety, disordered eating, or any other myriad of mental challenges you might face.
I have found an escape from this, I have found my reset button - the mountains. And I want to share how a hike can be the best medicine for your mental health.
The Lack of Noise
Traffic, sirens, construction, electronics beckoning for our attention. Our daily lives are filled with so much noise.
When we go out to hike, it removes us from this - we experience the quiet. Your racing mind slows and you find peace within your thoughts. In the mountains there are no judgements, no expectations, no comparisons or highlight reels. In those moments it is just you and the earth, with only the soles of your boots separating you from it. You see the mountain breeze move the clouds and trees around you, and you feel it lift your burdens away from you.
Hiking, for the most part is the simple act of stalling down a path. This repetitive experience of putting one foot in front of the other can be almost meditative for some. It puts you in a state of being aware - fully present in mind and body.
You hear the birds, the sound of a distant waterfall.
The potent smell of pine and leave from the trees surrounds you.
The fresh blowing air touches your skin.
You taste the cold water and beef jerky as you stop for a quick break.
When you are in touch with your senses, you begin to feel more connected to what's around you, to the experience, and to yourself. It re-energizes your soul.
The Release of Happy Chemicals
It is no secret that exercise stimulates the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine. These brain chemicals play an important role in regulating your mood, and have been known to actually increase it. Sure, you could just hit the gym to trigger this neurotransmitter release, but the added bonus to hiking is that it often doesn't feel like working out or exercise. It comes with other goals of hiking, like sightseeing and being in nature. Incidentally increasing our time in the session. This chemical release combined with the time spent in a natural outdoor setting has clear benefits to your mental health, as well as lowering stress and frustration.
The Shift in Perspective
For me a trip to the trail brings me to another world. The mountains, the trail, nature, is ever changing, yet somehow it seems so constant in comparison to our own brief existence and experiences. Being out there you are immersed in something far beyond yourself, but you become a part of it. I never feel alone when I'm on the trail as I sometimes do in the human world.
I can get into a rut, listening to my ego, seeing only the negative and feeling constantly tired. The mountains shifts my perspective. To stand looking up at these humongous mountains and wonder if anyone has ever set foot there before. To stand on the peak looking out over the vast landscape before you and feel so small, it remind you that it is just a spec on this earth and just how big and incredible the world is. It swallows you whole and suddenly everything is so simple and you are free.
Hiking might not fix every problem, but it sure does have some good benefits too improve your mental health. I absolutely love it, and love the person that I am when I'm out on the trail and the purpose that it gives me.
If you don't have access to the mountains, just get outside anywhere. Find a path in your community, a quiet forest, or a beach. A place where you can immerse yourself in nature for a while, tune in and clear your mind.
Let me know in the comments how the trail has impacted your mental health?
Collins, R. (n.d.). Exercise, depression, and the brain. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise
Mitten, D., Overholt, J. R., Haynes, F. I., D'Amore, C. C., & Ady, J. C. (2016). Hiking: A Low-Cost, Accessible Intervention to Promote Health Benefits. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 12(4), 302–310. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827616658229
Summiting Strong is for entertainment purposes only. This article should not replace professional care and is not to be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. If you need medical care or are struggling with your mental health, please reach out to a doctor or therapist.