As long as I can remember, I have always been an anxious person. I was always a nervous kid. I would cry when my parents left for their dates every Friday night. I was nervous when we would do family activities where someone could potentially get hurt. My heart would race when I had to do something new or unfamiliar. My mind was always overthinking.
I thought I grew out of it around age twelve, but when I attended college, during my final semester, my anxiety re-presented itself. I was taking 18 credits, working a part-time job, working an internship, leading my collegiate DECA organization, and I moved three times. My anxiety skyrocketed and I felt lost, broken and alone.
The one thing that always seemed to help get rid of that anxiousness throughout my life, was going on hikes, getting fresh air, making and taking time for myself. It has always been a time for me to clear my mind. As I have learned more about taking control of my mental health, I have found that hiking has more benefits than I had originally thought. Here are three things that I have learned:
Stress is normal. But when it comes to mental illness, stress drags you down more than it does to other people. I have found that when I am more stressed, it triggers my anxiety.
When you make your body move and and elevate your heart beat, your body releases endorphins in your brain. Endorphins act as your body’s natural painkiller and higher levels of it can increase your ability to sleep better.
I know that when I sleep better, my stress levels decrease and I am able to function better. I can face life head on.
Anxiety is a constant nagging feeling of worry and nervousness, usually about something that is going to happen with an uncertain outcome. When you deal with increased anxiety or anxiety disorder, you typically cannot place where that worry or nervousness is coming from. Your mind and your body is consumed with this fear of something unknown.
Often, the best way to get out of the funk of it all is to just move. When your body feels better, so does your mind. Moving your body can help release that feeling of being trapped. Releasing those endorphins can kill that pain and worry that you feel.
Hiking will take you to a place that is new and will focus your mind on something else rather than your anxiety. It will allow you to take those obsessive thoughts and nagging emotions and put it toward helping your body.
When your body feels good, so does your mind. When you work and move your body, it releases dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that send signals to other nerve cells. It plays a major role in making you feel happy.
When you take time out of your day to spend time on yourself, and allow yourself to take a break from work, drama, or chores, you will feel more free and open. Allow yourself that time for self-discovery and find out who you are when you aren’t doing everything else. Think about a movie, listen to a podcast or just enjoy nature and allow yourself to feel happy.
Everyone deals with stress and anxiety, some people more intensely than others. But moving your body helps your mental health no matter how intense it is or not.
Do research on good hikes near you. If you aren’t comfortable with the hiking trails near you, walking around the block or around a park can be just as rewarding. If you’re new to hiking, start with some small hikes somewhere that’s comfortable. You may want to speak with a doctor to know where you can start.
Hiking is just one of many ways to improve or overcome mental health issues. If you need to take medication, do so. Doing all you can to take control of your mental health will put you ahead of the game.
You are not alone in wanting to improve your mental health. Many people are taking time to take care of themselves and going on hikes to help take control. What are you waiting for?