Stress Management in the Mountains
by: Jonathan E. Hart, LPC
One of the hats that I wear in my life is that of a Scoutmaster. I love being with these young men and helping them learn leadership and character. I love hanging out with them and being a part of their world.
We recently participated in a trek at Philmont Scout Reservation near Cimarron, NM, a 10-day backpacking journey of 76 miles. Hiking in the mountains of New Mexico, among such sights as are simply not available in Missouri, one might think that stress would melt away and relaxation would be almost a foregone conclusion, especially for one who loves the outdoors.
I found this rest was harder to come by than I thought. One thing I noted often was our tendency to focus on getting to the next Destination. We hiked an average of 7 miles a day with 40 pound packs on. Our stops provided opportunities to participate in program activities like mountain biking, railroading, cowboy action shooting, and tomahawk throwing (to name just a few).
It is easy when hiking in a group to get caught up in “getting there” in order to have the time to do the activity offered. The tendency is to put your head down and put one foot in front of the other in order to “get there”. Consequently you will see little more than the rocks, the heels and backpack of the person in front of you.
I had to remind myself (and the boys) often to slow down, get a little space between ourselves and the next guy, and LOOK AROUND. “We’re in the MOUNTAINS! Look at that valley! Let the massive magnitude of this place sink in, let the sheer sense of scale take hold for just a moment. Look at this little river snaking through this rich green valley! Listen to the water and the birds! Literally SMELL THE FLOWERS!”
When I did so, we would take a moment, stop or slow down and “ooh and aaah” appreciatively, snap a few photos, and then put our heads down and get back to the “business” of hiking.
When I returned to “civilization”, I noticed a profound similarity between this experience of hiking and to that of driving. We can become focused on “getting there” rather than on the journey. We fixate on getting past “this slow idiot” in order to be behind then next slow idiot. We race and race to “get there” rather than allowing ourselves to take our time and to enjoy the journey.
I think the focus on Destination over Journey is a challenge that faces many of us when it comes to stress and our often futile attempts to manage it. We need a regular reminder that most of our stress is often self-applied and actually unnecessary. In the midst of our tasks, if we can slow down and look around, shift our focus from “getting there” or “getting it done” to finding delight in the doing and in the journey, we just might find our lives more livable and enjoyable. –JEH