When I first got sober, I struggled a lot with my mental health. Some days would be good, but others I would find myself crippled with anxiety. I tried things like meditation and yoga, and while they helped me some, I needed something more active to release all of my anxious energy. After doing a little research and talking to some of my support group, I decided to take up hiking. I was out of shape and inexperienced, but after I went on my first hike none of that mattered.
Sure, I was out of breath pretty quickly and wasn’t sure if I was gonna make it, but I didn’t have any anxiety. I didn’t have any racing thoughts and I wasn’t thinking about getting high. All I was thinking about was the beauty of the stream flowing beside me, the energy in my body, and the determination in my soul.
About an hour into the hike, my two friends and I approached a large rock that was protruding from the forest overlooking a valley full of trees that were changing colors in the fall. We dropped our backpacks and spent a while simply sitting there – breathing in the fresh air, feeling the sun on our skin, and appreciating the fact that we could do these things sober.
After that first hike, I fell in love with it. I have come to believe that it is an integral part of my sobriety as it helps keep my mind, body, and soul in a healthy state.
Hiking is a healthy activity for any individual but it can be especially beneficial for those in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. It is a form of recreational therapy that is increasingly becoming more popular among addiction treatment facilities across the nation. Hiking can be a healthy habit in recovery that can improve mental, physical, and emotional health.
Spending time outdoors is good for mental health.
A crucial aspect of recovery is effectively treating mental health. After all, nearly 50% of people who suffer from addiction also have a co-occurring mental illness. If mental health is left untreated in recovery, a relapse is likely to occur. Fortunately, hiking is a great way to cope with symptoms of mental illness and promote mental health.
Hiking is proven to help alleviate depression and improve overall well-being. Researchers found that individuals who walked in natural areas for as little as 90 minutes showed decreased activity in the region of the brain that is associated with depression. The combination of sunlight, fresh air, nature sounds, and an escape from the fast-paced technology-driven society can combat many of the symptoms of depression. Hiking can also be a great physical activity to cope with symptoms of mental illness, providing for a healthy outlet to relax and soothe the mind.
Hiking can help manage stress and anxiety.
In early recovery, individuals experience a multitude of changes in their daily lives. Between getting sober and trying to cope with day to day life, early sobriety can be a difficult time. These major life changes can lead to excessive stress and anxiety, so it is important to have a way to destress and cope with anxious feelings.
Hiking can be a form of mindfulness as it allows individuals to become more connected with nature and their surroundings. Connection to nature in a tranquil environment releases endorphins that can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. In addition, hiking is a great form of exercise that is an effective coping mechanism for anxiety and a way to release any stress or tension that the body may be holding onto.
Vitamin D is good for the immune system.
In sobriety, it is equally important to treat both mental and physical health. After spending variable amounts of time putting toxic, addictive substances into the body, it is common for those who are suffering from addiction to neglect their physical health. Many will suffer from nutrient deficiencies, immune deficiencies, or generalized muscle weakness. However, hiking will help expose the body to vitamin D, which is immensely good for the immune system.
Vitamin D is released in the body as a natural response to sunlight. It plays an important role in bone strength, heart health, cancer prevention, and dietary absorption. In addition, it can decrease the risk of disease by promoting protective immunity. Rather than spending time indoors and neglecting physical health, getting some vitamin D while on a hike can provide many essential health benefits.
Hiking can be a healthy hobby to distract from boredom.
In early recovery, boredom can be extremely monotonous. When a lot of time is spent chasing the next fix while in active addiction, it can be difficult to stay busy and entertained during the early days of recovery. However, incorporating healthy habits into daily life can help mitigate boredom.
Between preparing for a hike, spending time appreciating and exploring the wilderness, and spending time with hiking buddies, hiking can provide for an all-day activity to stay busy. Staying busy is an effective way to keep the mind away from negative thinking. In recovery, negative thinking is an enemy that can eventually lead to relapse. Hiking is the perfect alternative to boredom as it keeps the mind and body busy.
It can help you foster healthy relationships.
One dangerous symptom that is often experienced by people who suffer from addiction and mental illness, or dual diagnosis, is withdrawing from friends and family. Isolation from loved ones is usually one of the first symptoms that people exhibit preceding relapse. An important part of recovery involves developing and maintaining healthy relationships with loved ones.
Hiking with peers in recovery is a great way to build teamwork and develop bonds with other people. In today’s technology-driven society, it can be easy to spend a lot of time indoors on social media, only interacting with people over a digital device. However, the best way to build healthy relationships and connect with others is to spend time with them face to face without digital interference. Connecting with others can help individuals build a support group to confide in and seek advice from. Developing these relationships is imperative in recovery, as having a support group to lean on can greatly improve the chances of achieving long term sobriety.
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope. She can be followed on Twitter at @Cassidy_Webb41.