“If I die here, no one will find me, at least for a few days. And my dead body will start rotting before it gets torn apart by some unknown carnivores”

2 hours of hiking into Mt. Laguna, negative thoughts slipped into my head as I slowly moved into the backcountry park of the wilderness. I hadn’t seen a single human being for 2 days. Who would hike alone during the fire season?

Driven by fear, I quickly opened my backpack. Food, check. Water, check. Extra clothes, check. No cell phone signals at all. 

Terror built up in my head, and I couldn’t think of anything except for my family. I imagined all the bad things that could happen to me. The scene of my mom bursting out crying when she learned my death was impactful. 

“Maybe I abandoned her to live in the US.” 

“Am I a bad son?”

“Stop it.” 

I sneaked through the bushes like a bobcat, eradicating my self-defeating thoughts by focusing on my surroundings. After a few hours, I finally made it to the mountain peak and returned to the campground. I was alive, and I texted my mom immediately.

Not too long ago, I was dealing with depressive thoughts alone in my tiny room in Seattle. Stress, life purposes, and loneliness congregated and slowly swallowed my consciousness. By the time I returned to the campground, however, I felt more grateful for everything I have in my life. The depressive thoughts seemed to disappear. All gone. 

My experience in the wilderness doesn’t seem to be healing or therapeutic at all. You may question my intent behind putting myself into such a seemingly unhelpful mental state. And the truth is, this experience informed me how trivial my issues were back in the city. 

The anxiety over not doing well on exams vs. the fear of death and traumatizing my family. Obviously, I can tell which is much more terrifying.

Unfortunately, I cannot come up with psychological research that focuses on such a comparison effect. However, our perception of ourselves likely changes after experiencing a series of life-changing events.

My not-so-fun experience aside, spending time out in nature provides various psychological benefits. According to Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, taking walks in the woods reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, and nature sounds reduce stress hormones and blood pressure. During this pandemic, I am glad that hiking is still part of my self-care routine, offering me some space to just live in the moment without stressing myself out.

Often, we might feel stuck, and there seems to be no solution to our problems. Yet, changing the environment we are in may change our perception of the current situation. The people you talk to may offer you a new perspective. The adventure you experience may change your outlook on life. And when things don’t go your way, and you’re in a bad mood, don’t forget that a short walk in nature can give you the quick relief you may be looking for.

About the author –  Ko Huai-Che, MA, LMHCA  is a therapist with Pacific Mental Health. As a bi-lingual therapist, he is able to use both Mandarin Chinese  and English to treat patients. Ko helps people explore ways to resolve their issues through insights into their life experiences with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Psychodynamic approach.  He believes strength will emerge when people overcome crisis in their lives. Schedule an appointment with Ko.