Your First Hiking Adventure: Science-Backed Ways to Conquer Anxiety

Your First Hiking Adventure
Image: depositphotos.com

By Caitlin Evans

I haven’t always been the outdoorsy type of person. Sure, I had always preferred walking instead of driving, and during the warmer months, my bicycle is my most prized possession, but hiking and camping were something entirely different. Somehow, I had always thought of them as reserved for hardcore nature enthusiasts willing to get sweaty, muddy, and unafraid of bugs or snakes.

But as I started spending more time writing and studying on my computer, I realized that I craved being in nature. I’ve always led a very active lifestyle, but not necessarily one that included woods and mountains. So, sometime after my 20th birthday, I went on my first hike.

Organized and planned by more experienced friends, it was both a hit and a miss. See, I was so preoccupied with all the things that could go wrong, that I managed to have a mini-panic attack within the first hour.

As I sat on a log, contemplating whether I should try to push through to the next checkpoint, or just stay put and send my friends for help, I thought I would never do this to myself again. Not in a thousand years.

 

Image: depositphotos.com

 

But things rarely go in the direction we think they will. As I was trying to calm my hyperventilation and feeling of dizziness, my friend handed me half of a homemade sandwich, along with an orange, and told me to eat them. He said: let’s take a break, have a bit of food, and then we’ll turn back.

Munching away on the delicious food, I started to calm down. As my friends started joking around, I found myself relaxing, taking deep breaths, and suddenly, I was overcome by a weird sense of calm. I knew, at that moment, that I was going to be alright. After all, if I could go through back-to-back dance classes, a little bit of walking (even if it was uphill) would not be the end of me. So, we went on.

My friends kept reassuring me that we didn’t have to finish the entire trail and that we could stop at any checkpoint and head home. The funny thing is, I was the one pushing them on during the last mile.

 

But why hiking?

Well, the thing that drew me to hiking in the first place was everything that I had read about it. With so many people hooked on this form of exercise, how could it be bad? Plus, I had a bunch of great friends who were very enthusiastic about their weekend hikes. Naturally, I wanted to get as many of the health benefits associated with the activity. Better cardiovascular health? Yes, I wanted some of that! Increased bone density? Of course! Blood sugar control? Source of Vitamin D? Heck yeah!

Additionally, the time during which I decided to try hiking was an emotionally and mentally difficult period for me. With a heavy workload, I was dealing with everyday anxiety. Furthermore, I was recovering from my first burnout brought on by perfectionism and a need to prove myself worthy. The reasons why outdoorsy activities appealed to me were multifold.

For one, hiking has been proven to be beneficial for mental health. As it forces us to focus on simple movement, it allows us to take a rest from obsessive negative thoughts. Furthermore, it grants us a break from technology, thus increasing creative problem-solving. It’s also been shown to improve attention span in children with ADHD.

Since my very first hiking trip, I have become quite an enthusiast myself. Nowadays, I seek out any opportunity to spend time walking in nature. I’ve also come to learn a lot about myself, my limits, and have realized that to make a hike successful, preparation is key.

 

The fear of the unknown

 

Image: depositphotos.com

 

The very definition of anxiety connects the feeling (which can grow into a disorder) with the natural fear of the unknown all of us suffer from. Often, it’s the mind’s response to stress exposure, and can be connected to panic disorders, phobias, stressful social situations, OCD, as well as PTSD.

Even positive experiences can be a source of anxiety. For example, some people start feeling that unease even when they’re headed for a vacation. Whether this is due to the inevitable exposure to unknown experiences, the overpowering fear of all the things that might go wrong, or simply the idea of returning home after a week or two of relaxation, it’s important to face these challenges in the way that’s right for you.

If you’ve planned a hike and are anxious about it, or if spending time in nature is something that scares you and you’re looking for ways to face your fears, there are several ways you can go about your first hiking adventure.

 

Pinpointing the source of your anxiety

The first step towards conquering your symptoms is going to involve a lot of reflection. Finding out the why behind an anxiety attack is the most important part of the process. For some, hiking will seem daunting due to being set in nature, away from the safety nets we’ve all come to rely on in our everyday lives. Others will see it as a source of danger, while some might have insecurities about their physical health.

If you’re not already in the habit of keeping a journal, you might consider starting. Letting yourself express your fears on paper might help you do two things. Firstly, it can allow you to voice the source of your anxiety. Secondly, it can allow you to see whether your fears are founded in reality.

It’s also not a bad idea to talk to a therapist who can work with you to conquer these paralyzing fears, and who might be able to prescribe any necessary therapy, including medication.

 

Actively work on calming your mind

Once you’re aware of the root of your anxiety, you should start working towards resolving these blocks. There are a few practices which can be particularly helpful in these situations.

Yoga and meditation, for example, are beneficial in reducing the effects of chronic stress. When practiced regularly, they can have incredible physical and mental health benefits. Because they are both based on self-awareness and self-compassion, they can be effective at eliminating several stressors. Furthermore, yoga has been shown to train the parasympathetic nervous system through gentle breathing techniques, which, in turn, has a positive effect on physiological symptoms, including heart rate and blood pressure.

 

Image: depositphotos.com

 

You can also try other soothing practices that may help you minimize anxiety. While a disorder may require medication, you can also help your body and mind wind down through drinking herbal tea (chamomile and green tea are particularly helpful), eating certain foods such as turmeric, salmon or dark chocolate, practicing the alternate nostril breathing technique, or taking a daily supplement.

There are some vitamins and minerals that could help control anxiety, including vitamins A, B, C, D, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids. Some can be combined with herbal supplements such as lavender or ashwagandha for the best possible results. Do keep in mind, however, that most supplements contain high doses of fillers, so try to opt for high-quality products, or make your own.

 

Consider whether your lifestyle needs changing

 Sometimes, the best way to beat anxiety is to look at our overall lifestyle. There are very simple things we can all do to ensure a better life quality, and often, we might not even be aware of the things we’re doing that are harming our emotional health. While some changes might require an adaptation period, others you can start implementing right away.

  • Try to get between 8 and 9 hours of sleep daily.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise weekly.
  • Quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.
  • Limit your intake of caffeinated drinks.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek out counseling.

 

Remember, your first hiking adventure is something to enjoy

 

Image: depositphotos.com

 

While you might be feeling anxious about your first-ever hiking or camping trip, the key thing to remember is that it’s supposed to be a source of fun, not stress. There are numerous ways to overcome paralyzing fears, but for sure, the winning combination is going to be a mindful approach paired with healthy lifestyle choices, expert counseling, and a lot of preparation.

For an easy way to prepare for your trip, consider this simple checklist. Furthermore, try to go on your first adventure with people you trust, and who are more experienced than you. Finally, don’t forget about the soothing effects of a great meal, so pack your favorite snacks, fill up your water bottle, and put on your sturdy boots.

You’ll see, you’re going to enjoy it – as long as you allow yourself the opportunity to take in all the beauty surrounding you.

 

Guest Author

Caitlin is a bookworm and active-life aficionado. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Caitlin is researching and writing about various health, travel and adventure-related topics. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, grilled tofu, and long walks.

26 thoughts on “Your First Hiking Adventure: Science-Backed Ways to Conquer Anxiety

  • April 30, 2020 at 12:05 am
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    I have only been hiking a few times. And I would agree that it helps us relieve our stress and anxiety. I’d love to go hiking again soon!

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  • April 28, 2020 at 5:08 pm
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    These are some great and helpful tips! My wife suffers from anxiety pretty significantly and has sought help for it. One of the biggest things they challenge you to do is to act on calming your mind. Thank you for the tips, I’ll definitely share them!

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  • April 28, 2020 at 4:40 am
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    Ok I’m gonna tell you about the time we took friends hiking up to the Griffith observatory. On the way back we took a wrong turn and ended up the wrong side of the mountain. And it was getting dark. No cell service. We ended up at a horse ranch, and asked them to use a phone to get an uber back to our car.
    My anxiety was pretty high that day!

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  • April 27, 2020 at 10:36 pm
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    Hiking in nature can help people hear their own inner voice and get clear about what needs to change and who they are.”Levi says when we feel anxious, we feel isolated and disconnected from others, and being in nature can make us feel more connected to the larger world, even when we’re alone.

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  • April 27, 2020 at 1:04 pm
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    I enjoy hiking although I have to admit I haven’t been on any really steep trails. I agree that hiking provides so many health benefits!

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  • April 27, 2020 at 1:02 pm
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    Hiking was an activity I enjoyed when I was younger, but I have not done it now that I am older. My knees are not that strong anymore. I would love to try it again, maybe choose easier trails. I know how relaxing this activity is, and how beneficial it is for maintaining mental health.

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  • April 27, 2020 at 11:33 am
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    It is an excellent guide for people who want to start hiking. I remember myself how often I was afraid of going up, especially on more strenuous hikes. If I do not feel secure on the trail or is too difficult for me, I don’t take a challenge. I agree that hiking has a health benefit, and it supports mental health also.

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  • April 27, 2020 at 8:16 am
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    I absolutely love hiking! However, I do get a bit nervous and anxious when hiking steep trails. Thanks for the great read, I’ll remember to keep your tips in mind when next going hiking.

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  • April 27, 2020 at 6:19 am
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    Hiking can definitely give you the much required mental relief to lead a stress-free life. Loved this blog post.

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  • April 27, 2020 at 3:42 am
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    Though I am really into hiking, my recent visit to the Blue Mountains in NSW, Australia is such a remarkable experience. Seeing the beautiful view surrounded by low clouds is breathtaking, gives me that happiness that can’t be summarized in words.

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  • April 26, 2020 at 5:18 pm
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    I love hiking and I always do it even here in my home in Mexico! My mind has been super noisy these days because of the lockdown and I find easy hikes as a remedy to quiet the mind, even just for a few hours. The brain and the body are connected so I truly believe that if we pay attention to our minds, the body will follow. Thanks for all the recommendations, especially the health benefits of hiking! Xx

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  • April 26, 2020 at 4:25 am
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    Oh I have been through this same situation once in a hike. I just didn’t know how to move forward to the next foothold of the peak. And I froze there. I had blogged on this.
    Coming to your experience good you had friends who calmed you down. But yes there is a science to this and thanks a lot for explaining.

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  • April 25, 2020 at 5:41 pm
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    I love reading your Posts here and how you narrate within each of your posts how to remove anxiety. I am too having anxiety and need to Plan my first Hike to conquer it. I am not sure if I am ever fit Person to go for a hike; but surely overcoming your fears is the only way to go ahead.

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  • April 25, 2020 at 2:46 pm
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    I didn’t do much hiking while living in South-East-Asia except occasionally with friends. Then I moved to Austria , which is pretty much what everyone does. I started to get into hikes through forests as well as up mountains. Its a wonderful feeling to experience nature along the hikes. Now I am hooked.

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  • April 25, 2020 at 4:14 am
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    Although I have not really been into hiking except a little bit of trekking short distances, it mostly has been the fear of whether I would be able to succeed that has kept me away. So it was interesting to read your first experience when you got tense and wanted to turn back till your friend gave you a sandwich and an apple post which you got the confidence to go ahead. Anxiety is what makes us panicky. Knowing the benefits of hiking like better cardiovascular health, increased bone density, blood sugar control and increase in Vitamin D are reasons enough to look at hiking more seriously and reading your post gives me the confidence that I too can do it.

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  • April 25, 2020 at 2:33 am
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    Wow who knew this could help anxiety. Crazy!

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  • April 24, 2020 at 5:20 pm
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    I love the beautiful views you can explore while hiking and how it makes you feel when you’re in nature.

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  • April 24, 2020 at 4:25 pm
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    Anxiety is so high for most people right now. I definitely have to stay active. I miss hiking in Colorado when we lived there.

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  • April 24, 2020 at 2:54 pm
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    I totally relate to you. I had these panic attacks due to anxiety of visiting a place on Solo trips which eventually calmed down as I ventured into it. I liked your suggestion of actively working on calming the mind. Yoga and meditation has helped me in conquering my fears and stay calm on my adventures. Thank you for sharing and reinforcing these thoughts.

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  • April 24, 2020 at 2:08 pm
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    I think my biggest obstacles were always just physically trying to make it through a backpacking trip! Fortunately I never had anxiety, unless I thought there was wildlife to be scared of.

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  • April 24, 2020 at 7:20 am
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    I totally agree with everything you have said. I used to hike regularly every weekend and I remember when I was high in the mountains, making effort, any problem seemed so insignificant to me. I don’t hike so often now but I always like to go in nature and admire its beauty.

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  • April 24, 2020 at 5:41 am
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    So inspiring, makes me want to go hiking!

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  • April 24, 2020 at 1:43 am
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    Great read. It is interesting how you can connect outdoors and calming anxiety. Hiking has always been something that we have incorporated in our life and it helps us unwind.

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  • April 24, 2020 at 12:46 am
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    Love this! I am planning on getting into hiking soon, so these are some really helpful tips!

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  • April 23, 2020 at 11:06 pm
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    I suffer from anxiety pretty badly, this must be one of the reasons I love hiking so much. I can’t wait till the parks I normally go to are open again!

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  • April 23, 2020 at 10:29 pm
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    Conquer anxiety has really deterred some goals in my life. I think writing them down and planning is the first step to begin your first hiking trip. I will never forget mine, it was in the Georgia mountains.

    Reply

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