A little over a year ago, I hiked up to Tuckerman’s Ravine in winter. I was doing well, but once we reached the top, I was overcome with anxiety. I became angry and went into flight or fight mode for no reason. I ended up just leaving and hiking down myself without telling anyone. This wasn’t good, obviously. The group I was with were annoyed that I just left and scared for my safety. I ruined a lovely hike. It was at the end of a long weekend – that was otherwise successful.
Afterward, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed that I left. I was ashamed that I succumbed so quickly to my anxiety. I was sad that I ruined a lovely hike. I apologized. It was a crap ride home because of it. I wasn’t proud of myself. I no longer wanted to think of this hike. I felt worthless.
Hiking is supposed to be great for anxiety. And at least for me, that rings true. But when I started pushing myself more and more, I found my anxiety coming down harder during the hikes, especially during winter. Winter hiking brings on a new dynamic of challenges. The weather. The accessibility. The toughness. The issues that can arise. But getting fresh air in the winter is something that keeps me going during those months, so I wanted to keep going.
When I challenged myself, I became tired and irritable and just needed to get out. But I kept doing it anyway. I had to work to gain some trust back from my fellow hikers, but I kept going. I kept challenging myself and my anxiety. I worked out more. I became more aware of my triggers when hiking. I prepared more. I learned more. I communicated with others more. I didn’t want to stop doing it because my anxiety was starting to be a problem. I wanted to overcome it.
Now this weekend, I did another winter hike. This was one of the most challenging ones I did. A little over 7.5 miles with some steep incline to Old Speck Mountain in Maine. This time, I didn’t have any anxiety. Throughout the hike, my legs were hurting. I was dreading every incline. But when I actually had to do it, I felt good. I felt strong despite my aching legs. I was happy. The hike was beautiful. I felt at peace. I fell twice and laughed both times.
The only time I had some attitude was at the summit. My feet were cold, and it was windy, and I wanted to go. When we finally left, I felt better. But I learned a lesson. I need a bigger puffy for the summit and actual winter hiking boots. But my slight attitude change didn’t ruin the hike. It didn’t ruin the weekend. I didn’t run away. I just did what I needed to do.
When I think about where I was a year ago, I’m not sure if I would have pictured where I am today. Being happy and strong and doing winter hikes with no anxiety. I’m not sure if my fellow hikers would have believed it anyway. But I had fun, and I’m looking forward to the next one.
When you start a new activity, that is supposedly good for your anxiety or mental health; it can be hard at first. It’s going to be challenging. You might feel out of place. It might even heighten your anxiety for a bit. But if you believe that you will eventually love it. If there are pieces of it that bring your joy. Then keep trying. Don’t let your anxiety dictate when you can and can’t do. Challenge yourself. Challenge your anxiety.
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I’m so glad I didn’t give up at winter hiking, just because it was difficult for my anxiety at first. I would be missing out on a world that brings me so much joy and peace.
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