Did you know that hiking can help reduce stress and sadness?
As we continue to adapt to life during a global pandemic, mental health challenges continue to arise. In one way or another, everyone has been affected by COVID-19.
While there is still a lot of research yet to do, scientists, psychologists and health organizations are all finding that the pandemic has impacted the mental health of people all over the world.
The good news is that we are also discovering a great antidote to pandemic-related stress, anxiety and depression: getting outside.
For centuries, great minds have spoken of the mental health benefits of spending time in nature. Here at the 52 Hike Challenge, we too believe in the healing power of the great outdoors.
In this blog, you will learn how to improve your mental health through hiking regularly - once a week - for a year.
First let’s briefly discuss what we know about mental health and the state of the world right now.
What We Know About Mental Health During The Pandemic
As you may already know (you may even be experiencing it first-hand), current living conditions due to COVID-19 have greatly impacted mental wellbeing on a global scale.
According to the Mayo Clinic, recent studies show that pandemic life comes with heightened stress, anxiety and depression.
In addition, one study found symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to be more common now than before the pandemic.
While most everyone is feeling the effects of life during COVID-19, whose mental health is most affected?
According to a scholarly article published by the Wiley Public Health Emergency Collection, there are certain groups who are at greater risk of mental health concerns, including:
- Health workers
- Kids and teens
- The elderly
From kids to seniors, people of all ages, colors and demographics are reporting feelings of fear, loneliness, isolation and more.
What we know is this:
We are experiencing a collective disruption in our mental wellbeing. But what we also know is that there are ways to work through it. One of the most recommended ways to do that is by unplugging and getting outside.
Now let’s cover how getting in nature can help relieve the feelings that lead to stress, anxiety, depression and more.
To better understand the mental health complications associated with the pandemic, we listed our references at the end of this blog.
Get Outside: How Hiking Can Help Reduce Stress & Sadness During the Pandemic
Now it’s time to explore more about how hiking truly helps improve your mental wellbeing.
The Media & Your Mental Health
Have you checked your screen time report lately?
New research suggests that too much time on social media or traditional media can negatively impact your mental health, especially during pandemic times. Excessive exposure to disaster-related content can put you in a state of constant fear and likely worsen mental health.
As a result, medical organizations like the Mayo Clinic suggest limiting your screen time or moderating how much news-based media you subscribe to.
Here at the 52 Hike Challenge, we love hitting the trails because it takes you off your phone and into the great outdoors.
Healing Practice: Leave your phone at home (or turn it off) and go for a walk around your neighborhood. Look around. You might notice new sights you wouldn't normally pay attention to.
Present Moment Bliss: Why Hiking is Good for Your Brain
Why is hiking such an effective way to reduce stress?
For one, it helps you get out of your head — and off of your phone.
According to a study by the University of British Columbia, when you step into nature, you relax your mind and become more present.
As a result, taking a hike can produce the same euphoric effect as meditation. The practice of hiking brings you into a state of presence during which you feel peaceful and at ease.
After your hike, you might find yourself feeling calm, centered and worry-free.
Healing Practice: Sit on a blanket in your backyard or a local park. Simply observe your surroundings: the color of the trees, the texture of the grass and the feeling of fresh air against your skin.
Nature's Awe Effect on You
Hiking makes you feel small -- in a good way.
A white paper titled "The Science of Awe" by UC Berkeley explains that getting outside can help you experience a sense wonder. This state of "awe" has an array of psychological effects:
- Feeling small
- Experiencing gratitude
- Acting with kindness and generosity
As you can see, hiking takes you outside of yourself and into your Self. You become connected with the land, and you start to realize the beauty of all the little things in life.
With the lasting effects of awe comes a greater sense of ease and wellbeing.
Healing Practice: Take a day trip to a beautiful natural landmark (a forest, waterfall, canyon, etc.) near you. Allow yourself to be swept away by the views.
Facts: Hiking Can Lead to Lower Stress Levels
Ready for the science behind it all?
Multiple studies show scientific evidence that spending time in nature can help you reduce stress and feel better.
In fact, one study claims that “forest bathing,” or recreating in natural areas, reduces stress hormones, otherwise known as cortisol levels, thus boosting serotonin.
While cortisol is responsible for activating your sympathetic nervous system (the fight & flight), serotonin helps you stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system (the rest & digest).
When you operate from your parasympathetic nervous system, you feel calmer and more relaxed.
Hiking helps you get there, making your parasympathetic nervous system a priority as you step deeper into nature.
Healing Practice: Take a silent hike or walking meditation through your favorite local park. Invite a sense of grounding by focusing on your feet and their connection to the earth.
The Link Between Vitamin D & Mental Health
Your hormones aren't the only ones affected by getting outdoors. You can actually receive essential vitamins by taking a hike.
Did you know Vitamin D is not only beneficial for your physical health, but it's also helpful for your mental wellbeing?
A study published by Cambridge University Press found a connection between depression and low vitamin D levels.
What's one of the most effective natural ways to get more Vitamin D?
Get outside! Sunshine assists your body in creating this healing vitamin. With adequate Vitamin D comes a stronger immune system coupled with a healthier mind.
Healing Practice: Walk barefoot on the beach and enjoy a blanket of sunlight shining down on you. Remember to wear sun protection!
The Many Mental Health Benefits of Hiking
The mental health benefits of hiking don't end there. The healing power of hiking is seemingly endless!
Check out how hiking can help you:
- Reduces stress
- Encourages positive thinking
- Increases feelings of happiness
- Enhances focus and concentration
- Improves creativity and problem solving
- Induces a state of presence and peace
Unplug and Take a Hike — or 52 Hikes!
Now that you know why hiking is so helpful for your mental state, why not make a commitment to seek the trails on an ongoing basis?
At the 52 Hike Challenge, we encourage you to get outside and take a hike once a week for a year. As you hike on, you will begin to notice positive changes in your body, mind and every aspect of your life.
You will love the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of taking this hiking challenge!
Join us for a year-long adventure that will change your life one step at a time.
If you are struggling, you're not alone. Call the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-6264.
- The coronavirus (COVID‐19) pandemic's impact on mental health (nih.gov)
- The pandemic strained mental health for Black Americans. It’s also amplifying calls for change | Health News Florida (usf.edu)
- COVID-19 and your mental health - Mayo Clinic
- Seven Ways the Pandemic Is Affecting Our Mental Health (berkeley.edu)
- Mental health problems and social media exposure during COVID-19 outbreak (plos.org)
- Social Media Use and Mental Health during the COVID‐19 Pandemic: Moderator Role of Disaster Stressor and Mediator Role of Negative Affect (nih.gov)
- Anatomy, Autonomic Nervous System - PubMed (nih.gov)
- GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Awe_FINAL.pdf (berkeley.edu)