Depression and anxiety are real issues people face in their everyday lives. There is one method I recommend above all others. I often get the question, What is the Best Natural Stress Relief for Anxiety? Try Hiking. Before you roll your eyes, hear me out first. Most people do not live all too far from a state or national park. It is cheap and affordable. And you heal yourself.
If you hike on a once-a-week basis as this article encourages you to do, you will reduce your anxiety. I guarantee it.
Let’s get started.
A Trail Can Be Found Near You
Hiking is my number one recommendation. I would not recommend anything else because of what this site is about. Most people in the US and elsewhere live quite close to nature. For that reason, it is easy to go on a hike. In Santa Cruz where I live for example, I can find Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, UC Santa Cruz (it’s basically a national park in everything but name), Wilder Ranch, and DeLaveaga Park to just name a few options.
I will admit Santa Cruz is a bit of an exception compared to where most people live, but you are bound to find a place near you in under fifteen miles. All it takes is a little research and you are off to the races.
No One Said it Has to Be a Long Hike – You Can Start Small
All it takes is a one-mile loop. You can bet there is something of the sort where you are. If you live in a city, you can be sure to find public gardens and parks to explore. AllTrails.com is my go to option for finding a place near me. They have everything under the sun.
Also, I prefer to go for at least two hours on most outings, but that is because I have gotten used to hiking for longer times. The more you hike, the more you will get used to longer times. A longer time takes you more out of your regular routine and into the comforting arms of nature.
You’re Doing Two Things at Once – Exercising and Meditating
I recommend hiking because it’s a multi-tool. You affect all the parts of your being, mind, body, and soul, all at once.
Exercise is the Best Cure All for Just about Every Ailment
If this weren’t an outdoor blog, then I would recommend exercise just by itself. On a hike, you get your heart rate pumping, your sweat flowing, and your body moving. Your body and mind feel the shift. Exercise creates personal power. You work tensed up muscles. Often times when outdoors, the terrain is uneven. “Ah no!” You might say, but you will engage your core muscles and improve your balance.
All of those things in and of themselves provide an outlet for stress. Instead of focusing on the negative, you are doing something positive for a change. You feel stronger and experience a different outlook on life than the one you are in now.
If you hike, your brain works in the background. If you are having trouble with a math problem, it is thinking about it. If you are worried about something back at home, then your brain reflects on the issue. If you go on a hike, you, subconsciously, think of what else you can accomplish.
On a hike, you compete against yourself, your most important competitor, but, and this is important, at your own pace. Hiking is, well, a metaphor for life. Some are speed demons traveling at breakneck speeds and whizzing from one challenge to the next. Others prefer a more methodical and steady pace. You got to remember no referee is watching you.
As long as you keep moving forward, no matter how slow, you are doing just fine.
You can, of course, sign up for a gym membership and take classes. If you can, you should do so, but a gym only goes so far. They are full of other people building their egos. The bodybuilders hog the weights. The girl on the treadmill clearly goes here a lot. And there are mirrors everywhere for people to admire themselves. You won’t find a mirror in the outdoors to reveal how not so pretty you look after a few miles on the trail. You just have to accept the sweat and dirt.
No one judges you on a hike.
Whatever your religious belief or lack thereof, meditation works. I found this article to really nail down support for this point. In short, you get benefits like reduced anxiety, lengthened attention span, reduced memory loss, improved sleep, and decreased blood pressure to name just a handful of benefits to expect.
Too often people associate mediation with a man wrapped in golden robes on a mountain top saying ‘om’ over and over again while he sits in the lotus position with his eyes closed. You can be a monk, but I have found it does not work for most people.
I come from the West. For me at least, I want to feel like I am making progress and moving forward. I have to constantly do something, anything.
In sitting meditation, you are alone with your thoughts doing nothing but focusing on your breath. If you are in the lotus position or something similar, you are also uncomfortable. The combination of total silence, aloneness with your thoughts, and physical discomfort is overwhelming. It is a lot to ask a beginner to start meditation by sitting still for fifteen minutes and focusing on nothing but their breath and thoughts.
From my own experience and watching others, I find it best to trick the mind and body into meditation. Hiking is, in essence, walking meditation. You move and meditate. When you hike, you make progress. On a hike, you gain perspective. Because of the greenery all around you, you breathe in fresh air. Lots of oxygen makes you feel better about life. You quiet the mind.
No Other Option Multiplies itself Like Hiking
Hiking smashes the benefits of exercise and meditation together to create a multiplier effect. While I do not have scientific evidence, I can attest to my own personal experience. No matter how long or difficult the hike, I always feel better afterwards every time.
The effect follows me throughout the entire week. When I hike on a Saturday, I feel it two weeks later. If I get stressed from school or work, I recall my time outdoors and visualize the greenery to calm me down.
You can feel the same way.
This Option Saves You a Lot of Money
I would not recommend anything expensive to cure your anxiety and depression. You don’t need
to be more stressed out with a high price tag.
Let’s consider the alternative many other articles on your Google search recommend for a moment, pills. Lots and lots of pills will make the palpable pain go away. Pill popping costs money though. You can easily throw down the dough on a few different types of pills, one for anxiety, one for the high heart rate, one for the excessive sweating, you get the idea.
It never stops until you kick the bucket. And if the pill is not all natural, then you risk potential side effects. One pill often has an associated one just to cure its side effects. All of those chemicals flow through your body and slow you down.
Pills do not focus on promoting your well-being. They focus on the cure as if everything can be solved with one magic bullet solution. A pill only focuses on one aspect of your body, not the whole. Hiking, though, affects every part of your being, from the feet to the fingers to the head on your shoulders. It covers everything.
If you choose to hike, you will save money. Let me tell you I haven’t bought any new gear for my day hikes in over five years. I’ll admit it does cost me gas money, but the cost is negligible.
Nature Heals Your Soul
The outdoors confers all sorts of health benefits on you. You experience improved blood circulation, stronger muscles, and reduced stress levels.
This study from Scientific American, for instance, demonstrates the healing effects gardens had on patients at hospitals. Let’s talk about a hospital for a moment. No one goes to one for any good reason. Either they’re sick or someone they know is sick. The hospital is full of bright lights. Doctors and nurses rush from one patient to the next. Sometimes, all too often, an ambulance will whiz in and unload the most recent victim of disastrous car accident. It is stressful.
The hospitals in this study, though, decided to put something unconventional in the middle of all the chaos, an oasis, the garden. The results were remarkable. Patients went to gardens to seek mental and emotional fatigue at the hospital. The greenery induced relaxation. People’s health improved.
A garden provides a space for peace and quiet, not all unlike what you will find in a national or state park just on a larger scale. Granted you won’t be completely relaxing on a hike, you are hiking after all, but no one said you had to go fast.
People need nature. Greenery has been shown to reduce stress levels. On a hike, you are going to encounter a lot of it. You will live a better life if you go on a hike.
Are You Looking for a Backpack?
You are now all set to go and I can tell you are feeling better already. Before you go though, take a little time today to plan your hike. Where is a place near you? How will you get there? When will you go? Plan to go in the morning this weekend. Your will power is strongest after you wake up. After a good hike, you will feel better. I guarantee it.
If you want to go farther and reduce your depression and anxiety even more, then backpacking is worth serious consideration. It’s basically hiking multiple days in a row. It takes the meditation and exercise even further by extending the time over multiple days. To get started, you should check out a previous article, The Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2019 (do not fret if it’s 2035 and this article still reads 2019; I update these articles on an annual basis :)).
Fall in love with the process of being a better person and start backpacking now!
If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!