Healing Anxiety by Engaging with Nature

Like many of us, I was feeling pretty suffocated with stress and anxiety by the end of this week. The anxiety from work and other obligations was mounting and I felt that I needed to get out of my own head. I felt like I needed to remove myself from certain stressful triggers that come with narrowed focus and over-thinking. Sometimes it just becomes too much, and that’s when I take to nature. I told myself I needed space to decompress and immerse myself in something outside of myself. I needed an escape, a change of perspective. I made special plans on Saturday to spend all day in nature. I didn’t want to have any other plans or expectations or agendas that day. I just wanted to go be outside, more importantly I wanted to be outside of myself.

            I went to Mount Evans, a 14,000+ elevation peak just an hour and forty minutes outside of Denver. It was a crisp, clear late June day so I thought what better way to decompress and spend my time than being up in the mountains. I got up early, packed my bag, made sure I had plenty of supplies for the daily trek, and headed out. I love the feeling of adventure. I love the feeling of the open road first thing in the morning. I find it freeing, invigorating and therapeutic. Most of the trip up the mountain does not have cell phone service. This may be viewed as inconvenient but a lapse in music or podcasts opened up the moment to me. I rolled down my windows and just listened to the wind, to the hum of the engine, and to the distant birds chirping. I just let the sounds play with my eardrums and as I slowly ascended the mountain, I could feel my anxiety sinking.

Summit Lake, still thawing from winter. This area is about a thousand feet from the summit.

            There is a hiking trail near the summit of Mount Evans you can take that follows a narrow, snowy ridge into the vastness of the distant Rocky Mountains. There are plenty of high rocky points along the way to rest at and take in the view, and that’s exactly what I did. I parked, got my gear ready, and headed towards the rising ridge of the mountain. On my way, a herd of mountain goats passed me, paying me little attention, occasionally stopping to eat the various plants that had recently been exposed from the melting snow and ice. Marmots could be seen squatting on elevated rocks cautiously scouting their terrain and tossing me an occasional glance of curiosity. Birds passed above and below me, their calls echoing, bouncing off of the mountain walls to add to the sensory experience.

Mountain goat groups were frequently spotted on the trail, scaling the rocks and the rough terrain with ease.

            It was quiet on the mountain. The wind was unusually still for much of the day and there was little human activity around me. The quiet of the air was contrasted heavily by the loudness of the visuals. Snow-capped mountains could be seen all around, their illuminated white luster slightly fading out into the hazy distance. Two partially frozen lakes could be seen down in the valley, showcasing a variety of beautiful blues that come with the thawing ice. There was a pervasive slight trickling of water that could be heard on the trail, as the summer heat was slowly melting the thick mounds of ice and snow still clinging to the rocks at the top of the ridge. Several little streams were making their way down the mountain.

A couple frozen lakes I passed on the trail that were slowly thawing, revealing magnificent shades of blue.

            The exposed ground that could be seen was covered with plant life. The grasses and mosses varied from brownish-green to light green. There were flowering plants of purples and whites. Lichen were abundant on the rocks adding their oranges and reds to the landscape. The mountain was teeming with life. I found the place utter hallowed, mesmerizing, and wonderfully and vibrantly colored. It amazed me, just exploring a new world, paying attention to my surroundings, being in the moment, and being absorbed into the bigger picture of life and the earth. It felt natural, visceral, and ethereal.

Flowering plants, mosses, and lichens added a gorgeous variety of color to the exposed ground along the hike.

            The mountain seemed to melt away whatever stress and anguish I had built up that week. Paying attention to the intricacies of a place, taking in the sights, sounds, colors, and feelings a place gives you is my haven. I remember looking at the abundance of plant life, the vibrant colors and being amazed that these lifeforms only get exposure to sunlight maybe three months out of the year. I was in this tiny window, in early summer, where there was an oasis on the mountain, as soil was finally exposed to light, as liquid water liberally flowed from the melting snow. I imagined that this was feast time in a feast or famine world. A frenzy of life and energy was being exchanged here. An entire ecosystem intricately and marvelously existing in a world in the sky!

On the trail to the summit. Thick patches of snow along the upper ridges. The summit can be seen in the background.

The experience allowed me to get out of my own head and experience not only another world but a bigger picture of life. The mountains are my escape I suppose. They are a reset button for me. They expose what is important and what is not and allow me to shed my coating of stress I periodically acquire through life. It’s very easy to narrow our focus down to our lives and get shrouded in the world of ourselves and the world in our own heads. I feel trapped and weighted down by my own self-obsessions and it can be difficult to overcome sometimes. I feel trapped by what other people think of me, trapped by thoughts of screwing something up, trapped by familiar, negative emotions. We all have been there.

Nature opens up this box I fill with all of my worries, uncertainties, and insecurities and exposes it to a much larger perspective. Nature veers my attention from myself to the environment, to the symbiosis of life and land, to the larger history and flux of the earth. Nature reveals how tiny and inconsequential our problems really are. Nature reveals how much we inflate our own problems in our heads. Nature, for me, is the great escape from being too closely bound to ourselves. Nature is palliative and healing. Nature will show us the paradox of our existence. How we are everything and how we are nothing. Nature quiets the waters of my mind. I will always treasure its retreat and its message.

I hope you have a spot you can go to reconnect with the earth and with other life. I hope there is a place you can escape to reveal the larger rhythm of our world. If not, you can always go on an adventure to see what you can find. For me, exploring nature is almost like engaging with my inner child again. It fills me with a whimsical, curious joy and it’s a refreshing sensory experience like when we were children and discovered new places and things. It’s so easy to get lost in the chatter in our own heads. I know, I struggle with it daily, but I have tools to help mitigate these anxieties and nature is one of them. I hope you can find the healing serenity of nature’s tranquil song and can use it to grow in all the ways that you desire. It really can be a monumental therapeutic instrument for growth, perspective, and gratitude. It’s a beautiful world out there and immersing ourselves in it can help grow a beautiful world within each of us. Happy exploring! ❤

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