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10 Ways Hiking Can Boost Your Mental Health and Stomp Out Your Stress

A male and female couple hike up a mountain by the sea

Okay, gather 'round, fellow hikers. Whether you're an expert hiker in peak physical health looking to increase the emotional benefits, or someone who's new to the activity and looking for some healing power, this article is for you.

Imagine this: You, out in the wild, conquering those trails like a stress-busting superhero. And you thought hiking was just about avoiding bears and finding Bigfoot... Nope, it's a whole lot more.

Discover how spending more time outdoors can increase your mental wellbeing.

The Mental Health Benefits of Hiking

Here's the inside scoop on how hiking is basically the mental health version of a winning lottery ticket.

1. Hiking Hones Your Memory and Focus:

Seriously, it's not magic, but science. Studies say it can actually crank up your memory and make your attention span as sharp as Aragorn's sword.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people who went on a nature walk performed significantly better on a memory test than those who walked in urban environments.

Research from the University of Illinois suggests that spending time in nature can improve your concentration and attention span by up to 20%. So, next time you misplace your keys, maybe consider visiting some national parks instead of ransacking your room.

 2. Kicking Stress and Anxiety off the Cliff:

Mother Nature's got your back in the fight against stress. Hiking in the wild can help you find your inner Zen, quell those anxiety monsters, and bring some well-deserved peace to your day. Take a hike, stress.

We're not bs'ing you—hiking can genuinely help you chill out. According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, people who engage in regular physical activity, like hiking, lower their risk of anxiety by 25%. That's a decent chunk of calm added to your life right there just engaging in some outdoor exercise.

Another piece of research from Stanford University took it even further, finding that walking in nature lowered activity in the part of the brain linked to risk for mental illness.

The participants who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to an urban setting, showed decreased activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain area active during rumination – repetitive thought focused on negative emotions.

So, the next time you feel your anxiety levels rising, remember that slipping on those hiking boots and heading out into nature might be the best prescription.

3. Hike, Happy, Repeat:

Hiking isn't just about working out – it's like a direct path to happiness. When you're out there, your body unleashes endorphins – those magical mood-lifting chemicals that give you an instant mood boost. Say hello to the "hiker's high."

It's not just your imagination playing tricks when you feel happier after a hike, it's legit science-backed fact. According to a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, a good stroll outdoors, especially hiking, prompts a surge in the production of a brain chemical called serotonin.

This little neurotransmitter is often called the 'happiness chemical' because it contributes heavily to wellbeing and happiness. Not just that, a survey by the Outdoor Foundation found that those who participated in outdoor activities felt happier, healthier, and were more satisfied with their lives.

So, the next time you're feeling down, you know what to do—pack some snacks and march your way to a mood boost so you can improve your mental health.

4. You, The Confidence Conqueror:

Crush those trails like a fearless explorer, and watch your self-esteem soar. Mastering those challenging hikes is like a confidence-boosting express train. You can be unstoppable just by spending time outdoors.

You know that feeling when you finally reach the summit after a grueling hike? That's your self-esteem going off the charts. And it's not just us saying this, there's some pretty solid evidence to back it up.

A study published in the Journal of Adolescence found that young people who regularly engage in outdoor activities like hiking have significantly higher self-esteem and resilience levels compared to those who don't.

They're not just stronger in their physical abilities but also mentally tougher. So, the next time you're doubting whether to go for a hike or not, remember - each step up that steep hill is a step towards building a stronger, more confident you. And if the slope sounds intimidating, start with a flat trail.

5. Nature's Creative Spark:

Feeling a bit dull in the creativity department? Nature is your muse. Being surrounded by its beauty away from the daily grind can light the fire under your creative keister and have you solving problems like a genius. Nature – the ultimate brainstorm buddy.

Ever noticed how your brain just seems to switch gears when you're out in the wild, feet crunching the trail beneath you? That wasn't a random observation. Believe it or not, studies show that hiking, and spending time in nature, can rev up your creative juices like nothing else and improve your mental health.

An experiment conducted by Ruth Ann Atchley, David L. Strayer, and Paul Atchley found that hikers on a four-day outdoor trip could solve significantly more puzzles requiring creativity compared to those who remained indoors.

The fresh air, the sounds of nature, the stunning views—they all combine to form an incredible brain-boosting cocktail, which can help you break through even your toughest mental blocks. So, the next time you're stuck in a rut, don't forget - a trek might be just the ticket to innovative thinking.

6. Dreamland Guaranteed:

Good news for insomniacs! If you find yourself counting sheep or staring at the ceiling come bedtime, a vigorous hike could be your one-way ticket to dreamland. Hiking is demanding, physically tiring your body in a wholesome manner.

As your muscles work, you burn off excess energy, leaving your body craving rest and recuperation. But there's more to this sleep-hiking connection.

According to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research, natural light exposure during a hike helps reset our biological clock, or circadian rhythm, helping us fall asleep more easily at night.

Plus, the calming effects of nature can reduce stress and anxiety, two major sleep-stealers. So next time you're up in the wee hours, remember—a hike today could be your passport to the land of Nod tonight and brings mountainous mental health benefits.

7. Social Bonding, No Icebreakers Required:

The benefits of hiking don't have to come solo. Hiking with buddies is like an instant friendship spell. It's a chance to deepen your connections, share epic experiences, and send loneliness packing.

Taking on the journey through winding trails and towering peaks with a group of friends can become shared memories of triumphs and challenges overcome together.

Whether it's helping each other navigate tricky trails, sharing snacks during a break, or celebrating together upon reaching the summit, these experiences naturally foster a sense of camaraderie and deepen bonds.

Additionally, the shared silence during a hike, absorbing the beauty of nature, can be equally powerful in bonding and boosting emotional health. Even joining a hiking group can lead to new friendships with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts.

So, in essence, hiking is not just about personal growth, but it's also about growing together, creating a sense of community that goes beyond the trails.

8. Mental Toughness 101:

Hiking is like a boot camp for mental resilience. Conquering obstacles and powering through discomfort build your mental biceps like nothing else. You're a hiking warrior, and your battlefield is the great outdoors.

When we talk about mental toughness and resilience in hiking, some famous names instantly come to mind. Reinhold Messner, for instance, is an incredible figure in mountaineering, known for his extraordinary mental strength.

He was the first to summit Mount Everest solo without supplemental oxygen, a feat that demanded not just physical prowess but an exceptional level of mental resilience.

Then there's Aron Ralston, who famously survived a canyoneering accident by amputating his own arm when trapped by a boulder, later hiking out for rescue. His survival story is a testament to the sheer mental grit hiking can cultivate.

Another inspiring figure is Erik Weihenmeyer, the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, showcasing how mental resilience can defy all odds.

These examples remind us that with mental toughness, anyone can conquer their personal Everests, on and off the hiking trail. This earned resilience will also be transferred positively to other areas of your everyday life.

9. Embracing Mindfulness, One Step at a Time:

Hiking is your ticket to mindfulness, a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're hiking, you're not worrying about tomorrow or regretting yesterday—you're grounded in the here and now.

When you’re out on the trail, it’s just you, the trail, and nature. It’s near impossible to be distracted by the constant ping of emails and social media notifications. The rhythm of your footsteps and the sounds of nature become a natural form of meditation, helping you focus on the present moment and letting go of external worries.

A study conducted by Stanford University found that individuals who went on a 90-minute walk in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination (a known risk factor for mental illness) and had reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to mental health risk.

So, when the world gets too stressful, and your mind feels like a whirlwind—remember, a hike might be just what you need to find your zen again.

10. CBD - Your Natural Trail Companion:

Companion: CBD (Cannabidiol) is gaining a reputation as a fantastic companion for hiking. Derived from the hemp plant, CBD is all-natural, fitting perfectly with your nature-centered adventure.

One of the primary benefits of CBD is its ability to alleviate stress and anxiety, helping you quiet that mental chatter and immerse yourself in the serene wilderness around you.

A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that CBD can significantly decrease anxiety levels, promoting a calm state of mind. So next time you take a hike, include some CBD gummies in your trail mix.

When on a hike, this cool, calm relief can enhance your overall experience, allowing you to soak up every moment and every view without the burden of stress.

Remember, the beauty of hiking is best enjoyed with a clear, tranquil mind, and CBD might just be the key to achieve that.

A male hiker consumes Sunday Scaries CBD Oil while his girlfriend watches

Expert Quotes on The Mental Health Benefits of Hiking

We've talked about the mental and emotional benefits of hiking and how research shows how natural environments can improve your human experience, but don't just take it from us, hear it from the hiking experts themselves:

"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves" - Sir Edmund Hillary, a famous New Zealand mountaineer, explorer, and philanthropist who, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, became the first climbers confirmed to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

"Hiking and happiness go hand in hand or foot in boot." - Diane Spicer, a famous hiking coach and founder of the Hiking For Her website. Her words encapsulate the joyous connection between hiking and mental well-being.

"Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence." - Nemann Buhl, Austrian mountaineer who climbed Nanga Parbat solo and without bottled oxygen. His words remind us that hiking teaches humility and resilience, crucial for mental health.

"Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits." - Cindy Ross, renowned author and long-distance hiker, touches on the transformative impact of hiking on one's mindset.

"In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks." - John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist, author, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States. His words perfectly capture the mental treasures that come with each hike.

Expert hikers, with their captivating words and inspiring stories, are the Gandalfs of the great outdoors, leading us on an epic journey of resilience, humility, and personal transformation right there on the trail. But can this wizardly magic work mental health disorders?

What Mental Health Disorders Can Hiking Help With?

In the continuing discussion of the health benefits of hiking, it's crucial to recognize that this natural activity plays a potent role in combating various mental health disorders.

From anxiety and anxiety to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, hiking serves as a therapeutic activity that facilitates healing, growth, and tranquility.

The profound impact of hiking is increasingly being recognized and used as an adjunctive therapy in treating a range of mental health disorders.

So, if you're dealing with mental health struggles, remember, the healing power of nature is just a hiking trail away.

Check out the 6 mental Health Disorders that Hiking Can Help With:

Anxiety

Depression

Bipolar Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

A female hiker holds up two peace signs as she looks down from a mountain at the ocean

Can Hiking Really Help With Depression?

Absolutely, it can. Hiking is like your very own natural antidepressant. It's not just about the physical exertion, but also the immersion in nature. Research suggests that time spent in nature is amazing for mental and physical health, and can be linked to decreased levels of depression along with the other mental health benefits listed.

A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan provides empirical evidence supporting the positive impact of hiking on depression. Researchers discovered that individuals who partook in regular group nature walks displayed significantly lower levels of depression, illustrating improved mental health overall.

Additionally, these nature walks facilitated a positive attitude, improved social interaction, and a general sense of well-being.

Therefore, the practice of hiking does not only help improve your physical health; it functions as a powerful conduit to mental rejuvenation, providing a natural, cost-effective remedy to combat depression.

When you're hiking, you're not just burning calories; you're also burning off negative emotions.

The sense of achievement you feel when you reach a summit, the calmness that descends when you're surrounded by nature's beauty, even the simple act of focusing on the path ahead - they all contribute to a healthier state of mind.

So, if you're facing the dark clouds of depression, remember, there's a trail out there that might lead you back to sunshine. Tell depression to take a hike, time spent in nature is a great way to turn that frown upside down.

Is Hiking a Form of Therapy?

Yes. Hiking can indeed be considered a form of therapy, often referred to as 'ecotherapy' or 'nature therapy.'

Recent research suggests that spending time outside works for many people as a way to reflect on their personal journey and unpack their life problems.

When you hike, you step away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and immerse yourself in nature. Each step brings you closer to your inner self, allowing you to reconnect with who you are and what truly matters in life.

The natural beauty around you, the peace and quiet, the fresh air and the physical exertion all combine to create an experience that's therapeutic in nature.

In fact, more mental health professionals are recognizing the benefits of 'green therapy' and incorporating it into their practice.

They often encourage their clients to spend time in nature as a complement to traditional treatments for various mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders.

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed, remember - the trail is your free therapist, and nature is your medicine.

How City Living Can Impact Your Mental Health?

Living in a city can be a double-edged sword when it comes to mental health. On one hand, city life offers a bustling environment filled with endless opportunities, vibrant social scenes, and an array of cultural experiences.

However, the fast-paced lifestyle, constant noise, pollution, and crowding characteristic of urban environments can lead to increased stress and anxiety.

 Studies show that city dwellers may face a higher risk of psychiatric disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia, compared to those living in more rural areas.

The reasons for this are manifold: the constant sensory overload, the pressure to keep up with the Joneses, the lack of green spaces, and the feelings of loneliness that can paradoxically come with being surrounded by a sea of people.

So, while city living comes with many perks, it's important to balance it with regular escapes to nature, to maintain mental equilibrium. So instead of being stuck in traffic on highways, feel the freedom of hiking trails.

A male hiker embraces his girlfriend as they look out on the ocean from the top of a mountain

How Hiking can Help Cure Your Sunday Scaries?

The Sunday Scaries can be a real bummer - that sinking feeling you get when the weekend is winding down and Monday is looming around the corner.

It's a mix of anxiety, dread, and sadness that can feel as tangible as the Sunday paper.

However, the good news is that hiking can be a game-changer when it comes to banishing those Sunday Scaries.

Hiking is a perfect blend of physical activity and mental relaxation, making it an ideal antidote to the looming dread of Mondays.

The serenity of nature allows you to clear your mind, forget about the upcoming work week, and focus on the present moment.

Spending time in nature has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and stress, providing a sense of calm and tranquility that can help ease the Sunday Scaries.

So instead of wasting the day scrolling your phone on the couch in your pajamas, grab your trekking poles and and experience the mental health benefits of hiking.

Banish Your Scaries by Unplugging from the Digital World

Speaking of phones, in the increasingly digital world we live in, technology can often play a significant role in fueling the Sunday Scaries.

The constant barrage of work emails, social media notifications, and news updates can create a sense of continuous connectivity that leaves little room for relaxation, amplifying feelings of anxiety and dread as the workweek approaches.

Furthermore, the 'Fear Of Missing Out' (FOMO) triggered by seeing others’ seemingly perfect lives on social media can lead to feelings of inadequacy and negativity.

So, it's no surprise that unplugging from the digital world and taking a digital detox, like going on a hike, can be a great way to combat the Sunday Scaries.

With every step, we can rejuvenate our senses, breathe in the fresh air, and appreciate the beauty of our natural surroundings.

Whether it's exploring lush forests, conquering rugged mountains, or strolling along serene trails, hiking is a transformative experience that nourishes the mind, body, and soul.

BONUS: Other Benefits of Hiking:

Beyond the mental, emotional and physical perks we've dug into, hiking has even more to offer. It's a cost-effective hobby—no gym membership or fancy equipment needed, just a quality pair of shoes and the great outdoors.

Hiking also opens up opportunities for stunning photography, bird watching, and when in season, foraging for edible plants and berries. It stimulates all your senses, invoking a deeper appreciation for the world around us.

So, lace up those boots and hit the trail—there's a world of benefits waiting for you that will make you feel good about your everyday life.

In Conclusion – Hiking: Your Mental Marvel Makeover

Hiking is like your ultimate stress assassin, mood magician, and mental clarity champion. It's a game-changer for your mental health and overall well-being.

With its countless perks and accessibility for all skill levels, hiking is one of the best outdoor activities to improve your mental and physical health.

So, as you map out your next epic hike, remember to prepare like a pro, stay in the present, and absorb all the natural beauty around you.

Let hiking work its magic on your mind and body – you've got this, trailblazer.

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