197: Anxiety on the Trail

Show Notes: Episode 197

Today on the First 40 Miles, when hiking or backpacking, our whole goal is to move forward, otherwise we’d just set up our tent in the parking lot.  But what do you do when anxiety stops your progress?  We have some tools that will help.  Then we’ll share a hack that will cut your tent weight almost in half.  Then we’ll wrap up the show with a quote that revives fire from the ashes.


  • Anxiety
  • We’re all affected in some way by some sort of anxiety. It’s part of the human condition.  We’re all on a spectrum, and we’re all triggered by different things at different times in our lives.
  • No matter what type of anxiety you experience, all anxiety has one thing in common: it keeps us from moving forward—it halts our progress.

Top 5 Healthy Ways to Deal with Anxiety on the Trail


  • It can be done anytime, anywhere, requires no special equipment
  • Take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing into your lower belly (for about 4 seconds)
  • Hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds
  • Exhale slowly through the mouth (for about 4 seconds)
  • Wait a few seconds before taking another breath
  • Breathing is a tool that can help you relax anywhere

Practice Mindfulness

  • Anxiety is a feeling that the world is caving in and taking you with it. Mindfulness reverses that feeling of impending doom by opening up the world and you taking it all in.
  • Your goal with mindfulness is to mentally document every single element of the present moment.
  • Heightened awareness and being present in the moment(not in the future-which is anxiety and not in the past which is depression).
  • Smells around you, the texture of your clothing, the level of humidity between your toes, the feel of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, the sounds, the taste of the food, the sound of your jacket crinkling with each breath you take, the universe of living organisms around, above and below you.
  • That moment of intentional mindfulness should be so rich and filled with gratitude that you literally have no room in your brain to entertain any anxiety.
  • Journaling is a great way to practice mindfulness, recording your thoughts and feelings, the experience of the present moment—and who says the journal has to be all words? Some of the things you record may be little sketches.
  • “There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen to write.” – William Makepeace Thackeray
  • It slows down time, reveals things about yourself you may not have known before the pen started moving, and makes you present.

Connect with Someone

  • You are never alone
  • Anyone can connect with God through prayer
  • Connect with other hikers
  • Write letters


  • Imagine you’re on a set for a movie and everything disappears and you’re on a completely blank white set.
  • Your imagination can transport you out of your current state.
  • Human mind is creative and powerful


  • Music has power
  • … like that scene from The King and I where they are getting off the boat and whistling a happy tune.
  • Hymn, ballad, first song that pops into your head, playlist
  • Music releases dopamine

Don’t compound the issue with drugs or alcohol.

  • Alcohol changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety…. Lots of people turn to the numbing and loosening effects alcohol when confronted with uncomfortable feelings
  • Doing this can lead to a dependence on alcohol, which can make anxiety symptoms worse.
  • Backpacking is hard, but when alcohol or drugs are used for getting through difficult moments, it creates a self-destructive cycle
  • If you’re one to always pack a flask or a bottle, ask yourself if you’re just using alcohol to mask your anxiety in the wilderness. Maybe it’s time to confront your anxiety and find a way to deal with them without harming yourself
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: They can refer you to help 1-800-662-HELP

Backpack Hack of the Week™:  Fast Pitch Option on Tents

  • Fast Pitch Option on some tents with a large top rainfly
  • Makes a lighter weight shelter
  • Two tents for the price of one

Trail Wisdom

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

“From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

—J.R.R. Tolkien

If you’re looking for fun backpacking books and merch, check out thefirst40miles.com/shop.