Trail Therapy: Why Movement Outdoors is a Game-Changer

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By Gigi Griffis

About a year ago, I was having a full-on meltdown about my finances. I’d been scammed out of $350 and the whole thing sent me into a spiral of anger and panic and general gloom.

I couldn’t work. I couldn’t relax.

So I did the only thing I could do: I strapped on my day-pack, harnessed the dog, and walked onto one of the steepest hiking trails near my house, focusing on working my body and letting my upset mind focus on something else (like, you know, breathing, and putting one foot in front of the other).

It took less than an hour for my angry, whirling thoughts to settle as the noises of town faded away and I moved farther and farther into solitude.

And as my thoughts settled, I realized something profound.

I was upset about the $350 because it made me feel trapped. Because for the past few years, I work really, really hard, build up my savings a bit, and then—suddenly and unexpectedly—the expenses roll in. An unexpected medical bill. A series of vet visits. Or, in this case, a scam.

I kept thinking “I just can’t get ahead.”

That’s what caused my panicked spiral that morning.

But as I made my way quickly uphill (not quite running, but reducing a 1.5 hour hike to just under an hour), I realized that it was equally true to look at the situation from the opposite perspective:

“I’ve always had exactly what I needed.”

Sure, I wasn’t constantly watching my bank balance swing upward, but I also had never been destitute. I didn’t have to take a job I hated. I wasn’t living on my parents’ couch.

No, I was okay.

And so by the end of my hike, I was calm. Still not thrilled about the scam situation, but not railing or screaming or pulling out my hair in frustration. Just calm.

I’ve hit a lot of spirals like that. They’re usually around money or love or loss. Or losing friendships. Or wishing that my freelance business would (gosh-darn-it) succeed faster and in a bigger way.

But what I’ve noticed this year—a year that I’ve been lucky enough to get a visa to live in the Swiss Alps, with my apartment backing up to at least four challenging hiking trails and two easy ones—is that movement and nature are a deep, gratifying, and surprisingly instant kind of therapy.

It’s as if when I move up these mountains, pushing myself to go a little farther or a little faster than last time, I’m burning away all the negative, dark, and heartbreaking thoughts.

Because, in between telling myself that I can make it up the hill, noticing the perfect way the rocks spill over the hillsides, and moving away from the source of the trouble, even for just a few hours, there’s no room for those negative thoughts anymore. There’s no room to think that I just can’t ahead or that I’m not lovable or that I should give up.

After all, in that moment, I am getting ahead (quite literally). I am doing something just for me (which is the kind of thing that can’t help but make you feel loved). And I’m not giving up on the mountain, which makes me just a little more certain that I can conquer the less tangible things in my life as well.

And so I’ve begun to understand life a little differently this year.

On days that I’m frustrated, angry, or upset, I lace up my trail running shoes and run along the valley floor or wind my way, hiking, along the cliffs and up into the high alps.

When I noticed that I was feeling unmotivated in the mornings, I instituted a new routine, waking up at 7 a.m., loading business podcasts up in my iPod, and power-walking out of town in the brisk September air.

When I need a fresh perspective or just to be too exhausted to dwell on the tough stuff, I grab my jacket and I move. Up a mountain. Across a valley. Through town. It doesn’t really matter where. It’s the motion that clears my head, calms my heart, and reminds me that I can trust myself—body, mind, heart, and all.

14996296397_fe71042753_cGigi Griffis is a world-traveling entrepreneur and writer with a special love for inspiring stories, new places, and living in the moment. In May 2012, she sold her stuff and took to the road with a growing business and a pint-sized pooch named Luna.

These days, she’s hanging out in Switzerland, planning epic European adventures, and promoting her newly launched unconventional travel guides: ITALY: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, and How to Fit In and the smaller city guides for Paris, Barcelona, and Prague.

You can find more musings, travel stories, travel tips, and books at gigigriffis.com.

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Stay tuned for my next book: Daughters of Distance