Just recently on Facebook, a hiker made an interesting yet accurate observation concern hiking. He said -
“I'm going to bring up a touchy subject but it needs to be considered as you prepare for your own journey on the AT (Appalachian Trail). Simply put, a thru-hike of any long distance trail is not a solution (to) the problems and stresses that face you in everyday life. When the work and strain of 5-6 months is over and the exhilaration is fading, you will find that all those stresses and problems are still there. As (another hiker) so accurately pointed out, that can lead directly to a post trail stress disorder of its own. Perhaps you're thinking, I can just go on to the next trail and everything will be OK. Wrong. The truth is, if you’re hiking to fix your life problems, you're not fixing them, just postponing them. The trail can give you time to think and prepare, minus your normal daily stresses, but it is not a permanent fix for dealing with them. The trail can certainly build you a support network of other hikers, trail angels, ridge runners, etc. but the first thing you have to do is acknowledge is the trail is its own journey and not a complete substitute for the journey of your life.”
What he said is so true. I have seen hikers out there who think a hike and the trail will solve their life’s pressing issues. Yes it can be a marvelous time to sort out those things. The fresh air and sunlight along with the physical exercise, can invite a sense of well-being and provides many mental health benefits. But once the hike is over (and at some time it must end) you are then faced with life itself. And that’s where the issues can come into play.
It’s important not only to get ready physically, prepare your gear, map out your goals, etc. But one must get ready mentally too. Not just for what the trail can dish out. But make mental preparations now for the aftermath of your adventure. That is best done before you set out on your hike. For instance, do you have job prospects lined up so there is work to do when you get back? Are you financially secure enough to take time away for a long distance hike, yet not be out on the street homeless afterwards because of no money?
It’s important before and while on the trail to involve friends and family back home. The trail family you meet are great, and you may stay in touch with them once you get off. But it’s important to keep those contacts you now have. They may be the very ones who can help you adapt back into life post trail.
I also believe in having an active spiritual life. Praying, meditating, reading (I find much solace in the Bible) helps a great deal. Be sure to maintain a spiritual life especially before during and after the hike. I find God to be a source of great strength, understanding, and help in times of need. No matter how big or small that need is.
In Part II I examine a few steps you can take to curb the post trail stress that sometimes strikes after a long distance hike.
Other Mental Issues on a Hike