Nature. It cured me.
My journey through anxiety has been encompassed by a larger journey…one of self-discovery through the wilderness.
My greatest healing happened deep in the woods, away from people, technology, and the chaos of busy life.
I fondly call these experiences my healing hikes.
Rewind 20 years. One might find me playing in the woods that was adjacent to my best friend’s house. I would be playing outside, regardless of the weather extremes. I remember watching the thermometer in our cozy Ohio kitchen, staring until the number went from 9 degrees to 10 degrees. The rule was you could play outside when temps reached double digits.
Nature has always been my safe space. When I was in the height of my panic attacks, I would often escape the environment by running outside. Grocery store meltdown? Quickly escape outside. Stuck in line at the DMV? Gracefully (or not) power walk out the door. Stuck in a stifling conference of 500 people? Get up and run to the parking lot. The end goal of my escape plan was to seek comfort in my true home: nature.
Being outside has always been a source of joy, but that joy became exponential as I realized the impact that wilderness had on my panic.
I started hiking with Kemp and it grew to be a large part of our life. We have been in our “explore” phase for almost 3 years. I keep a journal of every hike/camping trip/kayak trip we take. It has become a precious item in our home. It is a book of reflection, memories, and lessons learned. So far, we have hiked almost 300 miles together.
I believe hiking is a lot like anxiety. Hear me out. When you start hiking at a new trailhead, the path is foreign and new. Your heart races as you get accustomed to the new pace. Your breathing increases to compensate for this increased demand. You focus on the path directly in front of your feet so you don’t trip and fall, creating tunnel vision. However, after a few minutes on the trail, you sink into the pace of hiking. Your heart rate and breathing regulate as you adapt. You look up from your feet and gaze at the beautiful periphery. Sounds a lot like riding the wave of anxiety, right?
Hiking taught me to push through moments of discomfort and trust my body.
There is a program called “Walk off the War” and it is geared towards Vets dealing with PTSD. They are guided on hikes and taught to rewire the overstimulated mind. It is the same concept with anxiety.
Nature helps me rewire that hyper-responsive sympathetic nervous system that my body LOVES to use and abuse.
What activities have helped you overcome mental illness?
Love and light.