Believe it or not, I first started hiking regularly to improve my mental health. I was working on Wall Street as a broker and struggled with anxiety and the stress of working in a fast-paced, high-energy environment. I was also dealing with some personal issues at the time and was looking for a way to clear my head and find peace.
I read that hiking could be good for your mental health, so I decided to try it. Even though I hiked when I was younger, I was never consistent. I lived in New York City at the time, so I wasn’t exactly sure where to start. I knew I always loved nature and the outdoors, so I decided to give hiking a try. It was the best thing I ever did. So in this article, I’m going to share with you how hiking has helped me improve my mental health and why I think it can help you too.
Mental Health Benefits Of Hiking
Hiking has a plethora of mental health benefits that can be extremely beneficial for those struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health issues. Here are some of the ways hiking can help improve your mental health:
1. Hiking Reduces Stress
One of the primary reasons I started hiking was to reduce the amount of stress in my life. I was working 70+ hour weeks on Wall Street and dealing with some personal issues, and I needed a way to decompress. Hiking has been proven to reduce stress levels by releasing endorphins, which are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
2. Hiking Improves Your Mood
In addition to reducing stress, hiking also has the ability to improve your mood. If you’re feeling down or struggling with depression, getting out in nature and going for a hike can help lift your spirits. The fresh air and exercise will do wonders for your mental state.
Even if it’s just for a short walk around the block, getting out in nature can positively impact your mood.
3. Hiking Boosts Your Energy Levels
If you’re struggling with fatigue or low energy levels, hiking can be a great way to give yourself a natural energy boost. Physical activity will increase your heart rate and get your blood flowing, which will give you more energy.
If you don’t feel like driving to the gym or going for a run, a hike is a great alternative that can still give you the energy boost you need.
4. Hiking Increases Your Sense of Accomplishment
Hiking can also help increase your sense of accomplishment. If you set out to hike a certain distance or reach the top of a mountain, accomplishing your goal can give you great pride and satisfaction.
It can be easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day grind and to feel like you’re not accomplishing anything. But by setting small goals for yourself and achieving them, you can boost your self-confidence and sense of accomplishment.
Personal story time, I remember the first time I climbed nearly 2,000 feet of elevation to the top of a trail in upstate NY. I (literally) felt on top of the world. None of my accomplishments in my long career on wall street could hold a candle to that feeling.
5. Hiking Connects You with Nature
In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, it’s easy to feel disconnected from nature. But hiking can help you connect with the natural world and appreciate its beauty.
There’s something special about being in nature and surrounded by trees, fresh air, and wildlife. As a child, I would gaze out the window and get lost in the view of the trees. I remember sitting there, staring at the leaves rustling in the wind and feeling so connected to nature.
Hiking can provide that same sense of connection and help you appreciate the world around you.
6. Hiking Helps You Get in Touch with Your Senses
Kind of adding to what I just mentioned, hiking can also help you get in touch with your senses. You’re not distracted by your phone, email, or social media when you’re out on a hike.
You’re forced to pay attention to your surroundings and really take in all the sights, smells, and sounds around you. And when you’re not distracted by technology, you can focus on being present in the moment.
7. Hiking Gives You Some “Me Time”
It can be hard to find time for ourselves in our busy lives. But hiking can provide the perfect opportunity to enjoy some well-deserved “me time.”
Whether you’re hiking alone or with friends, you can use the time to clear your head, think about life, and just enjoy being in nature. I often find that I have some of my best ideas when I’m out on a hike by myself.
If you’re looking for a way to relax and unwind, hiking can be the perfect solution.
8. Hiking is a Great Workout
Hiking is also a great workout. If you’re looking to get fit or lose weight, hiking can be a great way to do it.
Hiking burns calories, strengthens your muscles, and gets your heart rate up. And depending on how challenging the hike is, it can even be a great workout for your cardiovascular system.
If you’re looking for a way to get fit that’s also enjoyable, hiking is a great option.
9. Hiking Can Be a Social Activity
If you’re looking for a healthy way to socialize, hiking can be a great option. Hiking with friends or family can be a great way to catch up and spend time together. Compared to my old social activity – drinking at expensive bars in the city – hiking is a much healthier (and much more affordable) way to socialize.
Hiking can also be a great way to meet new people. If you’re new to an area or just looking to meet some new friends, joining a hiking group can be a great way to do it.
10. Hiking Can Be a Spiritual Experience
Last but not least, hiking can be a very spiritual experience. I’m not religious, but there’s something about being in nature that makes me feel more connected to the world around me. And it’s kind of funny for me to say this; because back then, I wouldn’t have considered myself a “spiritual” person, either.
There have been many times when I’ve gone on a hike and felt a deep sense of peace and connection. Whether you’re religious or not, hiking can be a great way to connect with nature and find your spiritual zen.
Is Hiking Good for Depression?
There was a point in my life when I was struggling with depression. My anxiety from my job left me nearly bedridden, and alcohol became my best friend. Suffice it to say, I was in a very dark place.
But then I started hiking. And slowly but surely, hiking helped pull me out of my depression.
Hiking gave me something to look forward to and focus on outside my job. It helped me appreciate nature and the world around me. And it gave me a sense of accomplishment.
I won’t claim it will help you with your depression, but hiking helped me. If you feel that depression is something you’re struggling with, I encourage you to try hiking in addition to reaching out to a professional.
Is Hiking a Form of Therapy?
For me – absolutely. And it still is to this day.
Going for a hike is one of the first things I do when I’m feeling stressed or anxious. It’s my form of therapy, and it helps me clear my head and refocus on what’s important.
To me, hiking is “therapy in nature.” If you’re looking for a way to reduce stress and anxiety, hiking could be a great option for you.
Why Does Hiking Reduce Anxiety?
So, why does hiking work so well for reducing anxiety?
Scientifically, hiking reduces anxiety by releasing endorphins, increasing your heart rate, and improving your sleep.
Endorphins are hormones that are released by your brain in response to pain or stress. They produce a feeling of euphoria and can help to reduce stress and anxiety.
But I think there’s more to it than that. When you’re out in nature, surrounded by trees and fresh air, it’s hard not to feel at peace. Something about being in nature just feels good for the soul.
For many of the reasons I mentioned above, hiking is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. If you’re looking for a way to reduce stress and anxiety, give hiking a try.
How Often Should You Go Hiking For Mental Health?
There is no “right” answer to this question. It depends on your individual needs and goals.
If you’re looking to reduce stress, hiking once or twice a week is a great place to start. If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, you may find hiking daily helpful.
But you need to listen to your body and do what feels right for you. If you push too hard, you may find that it does more harm than good. So start slow and gradually increase the frequency and intensity of your hikes as you feel comfortable.
The Bottom Line
Hiking is a great way to improve your mental health. For me – it helped to reduce my stress, anxiety, and even depression. If you’re looking for a way to improve your mental health, give hiking a try – you won’t regret it.