Hiking can relieve COVID-related stress and anxiety. Here’s what you should know before hitting the trail.
COVID-impact doesn’t only strike the sick. Consider this: one-third of Americans reported signs of clinical anxiety and depression related to the virus and protection protocols. While everyone has been affected to some extent, some people see their day-to-day lifestyle transformed. Doctors are even beginning to categorize COVID-stress as trauma. Our lives are being altered in significant ways, with no real end in sight.
This ongoing pressure translates to an accumulation of stress hormones, which then, in turn, degrade our overall health and wellbeing. This can include irritability, sleep disruptions, appetite changes, low concentration, increased resting heart rate, and cyclical thoughts of helplessness and despair.
And that’s just from a virus you may not even contract! When added to the typical stressors we face in an average year, it makes sense that Americans are hitting the wall in knowing how to cope. Most of us didn’t see this coming, and we aren’t practiced in habits that help us persevere. Our energy –– and our outlook –– is utterly drained.
Hiking isn’t just exercise. Nature restores your health and vitality.
The modern American lifestyle makes it possible to go an entire day –– and even weeks or months –– without stepping foot on the actual ground or breathing actual fresh air. Quarantine has certainly made this worse.
If you are living an indoor life, over time, you are depleting something Ayurvedic medicine refers to as “prana.” This vital life force sustains all life. Riding in on our breath, we draw energy in and exhale energy out. This is why yogic breathing is so beneficial: the postures and breathing patterns in yoga open channels where energy (prana) is blocked. But even if you regularly practice yoga, if you are inside all the time, at some point, all that recycled air is going get stale. It won’t contain much energy, and neither will you.
The solution is to get outside. Even a short walk in the woods can significantly impact your mental health and physical vitality. This is because the trees, dirt, water, flora, and fauna are continually replenishing the air you’ll breathe, circulating their own pranic energy.
A practice of controlled breathing out in nature helps distribute vital life force throughout your body. You will transform the energy your cells, blood, and organs receive. This not only strengthens your immunity but also refreshes your perseverance, reducing stress hormones, and giving you an overall feeling of wellness.
Things to keep in mind when hiking in the time of COVID:
The fun of hiking in nature is that it inherently comes with a sense of wonder. You don’t know what you’ll discover on the trail, be it a beautiful view, an interesting animal, or a surprising fork in the road offering you a choice of which way to go. That said, prepare yourself. Fun can become a danger when you don’t.
1. Carry water and fuel, always. It doesn’t matter if you prefer long walks, going for a jog, or a hiking park trails: planning to hydrate needs to be so habitual that it’s second nature. You can carry a sustainable water bottle, camel-type backpack, or even a filtration device. Just don’t skip it. It’s easy to slip an energy gel or pouch of trail mix into your pocket as for quick fuel.
2. Use trek poles. This game-changer can open up entire trails and levels of difficulty to you! A single trek pole used “hiking stick style” or two used similar to ski-poles can help you navigate rocky terrain and find solid footing if the trail is slippery and wet. Trek poles also relieve pressure off your knees and assist with balance. For older hikers, quality trek poles can mean the difference between taking a hike and a gentle walk, adding years to your sense of adventure.
3. Pack a PLB. There’s nothing quite like the restorative solitude found walking alone in the woods. But even if you go in a group, a Personal Location Beacon is a smart idea. Cell reception is often low or non-existent on the trail. Should you get lost or injured, a PLB helps others find you.
4. Stick to the plan. Parallel to a PLB and hydration, a plan is a crucial part of hiking. As fun as it might sound to set off and have no idea where you might end up, that changes if you get lost, encounter a wild animal who isn’t happy to see you, or hike alone. Pick a trail, share it with at least one other person who isn’t hiking, and don’t deviate.
5. Bring a mask. Prana isn’t the only thing you’ll be breathing in; COVID is spread via aerosol particles. While it hasn’t been recommended that hikers wear PPE while hiking on their own or in a family group, popular trails can become crowded. Practice safe and considerate social distancing, and when passing close to others, raise your mask.
Hiking to clear your mind feels good. But more than that, it can improve your overall outlook and heal traumatized exhausted emotions. It doesn’t matter how fast you hike or how high you climb: even a little nature goes a long way –– so that you can too.