By: Mark Munson (@markonthemove)
Almost every person experiences anxiety or negative thoughts sometime in their life. Whether it's stress because of work, relationships, or just life in general, anxiety and stress can lead to prolonged negative thoughts. It is possible for the person experiencing these negative thoughts to believe that it is their fault and that is far from true. There are countless things that contribute to anxiety and a negative mindset and when in this headspace, one can feel stuck and lethargic about life. It can be hard for many to escape this feeling and can lead some people into a complete downward spiral. Recognizing why you are in that headspace and taking action to improve your mindset is crucial for mental health and living the life you want to live!
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.
At the time, I had a camera and really wanted to get into taking pictures of the stars, so with photography in mind, that helped motivate me to get out and find awesome hiking and photography locations. There hadn't been much snowfall yet even in the mountains, so any chance I had to hike, I took it. I found a friend who had just bought his camera and was also getting into photography, so we would plan weekend or day trips whenever we could. Having a friend who is willing to do things with you when you're in a negative mindset is key. They help distract you from whatever it is you are dwelling on and you can talk to them about what is going on. When you have anxiety and are in a negative headspace, getting out of the house and out of your element is KEY. Doing new things isn't always comfortable, but if you have somebody there with you it won't be as bad, and it offers distraction from your problems. From my experience, anxiety and negative thoughts only exist if you let them. If you are proactive about it and find something to do to fill your free time (whatever you are passionate about usually works best), you will find the anxiety and negative thoughts start to dissipate. Don't get me wrong, this isn't an overnight process, but keeping yourself busy at all times is extremely helpful and helps distract your mind from the negative mindset that also feeds the anxiety. If you don't have a hobby you are passionate about, find one, and fill your free time with that!
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!
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