Trekking Past the Winter Blues: Embracing Mindfulness on the Trail
Feeling a bit down this winter season? You’re not alone. Whether it’s the holiday blues or the shorter days affecting your mood, here’s a remedy that may help.
According to a study from Stanford University, spending time in nature can improve our mental health. Getting outdoors and engaging in physical activities like hiking and walking can release endorphins, boosting our mood. Adding an integrative approach and mindfulness strategies, like those mentioned below, while we’re on the trail can help us get back on the right path towards feeling good.
Forest Bathing is a therapeutic practice that focuses on relaxation by using our senses. As you slowly hike through the woods, take a moment to consider what is around you. What do you hear, smell, or see? Maybe birds are chirping; practice thinking back to the last time you sang your favorite tune and what you can do to work towards returning to that person. Do you smell plants in the woods? Pause and reflect on how you have watered yourself to grow throughout your lifetime. How can you water yourself on days when you are in a drought? It is essential to consider these questions when engaging in forest bathing and practicing mindfulness in nature.
Moving slowly through the woods allows us to reflect while continuing to our destination, but sometimes, coming to a complete stop is necessary. STOP is a Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT) technique that helps ground us in the present moment.
S: Stop what you are doing and recognize how that feels. Is it uncomfortable or relieving?
T: Take a few deep breaths. Focus on the speed and rhythm of your breathing.
O: Observe your thoughts and feelings. Where do you feel these feelings in your body?
P: Proceed on the hike. Ask yourself which thoughts and feelings in your body are most present and how you can recondition them.
Nature therapy can enhance our mental health, especially when it comes to conquering the winter blues. Mindfulness practices, like the few mentioned above, are techniques that can allow us to focus on our challenges, understand how to move forward on the right path, and help us look forward to sunnier and warmer days.
*Please note that the above information is for education and informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
About the writer
Deborah E. Padilla is a licensed social worker who specializes in nature and adventure therapy, with a particular focus on trauma. She is the founder of PATHS WITH HEALING Inc. and the podcast HIKING IS MY THERAPY. She is also a licensed hiking guide and volunteers as Trail Supervisor for the southwest section of Harriman State Park for the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.