How Hiking the Rockies Can Improve Mental Health

Being in nature can boost your mood and improve your mental health. Spending quality time in the great outdoors reduces stress, calms anxiety, and can lead to a lower risk of depression, according to a 2015 study by researchers at Stanford University

In addition to having mental health benefits, being outdoors opens up your senses to your surroundings and improves your sensory perception. Taking in the sights, smells, and feelings of nature has numerous health benefits.

The treatment team at Colorado Recovery understands these benefits well and—with a campus only a short distance away from the spectacular landscape of the Rocky Mountains—has utilized the great outdoors as part of our treatment programs for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses. Exposure to the healing power of nature is part of our treatment philosophy

In a few days, some of our clients will undertake a hike that will be both challenging and deeply rewarding. “They are going on a three-day excursion up and around the Buchanan Pass area,” says Terry Stiven, MA, LPC, outpatient and transitional living manager at Colorado Recovery. “We’re gonna hike in four miles, they’ll see beautiful fields with the mountains in the background, and we will set up our base camp there.”

“The first day is about acclimating and setting up our space with the opportunity to do an afternoon hike to get to know the area.” Day two will be a pretty rigorous hike. “We’ll hike up to a lake and hang out there.”

Participating clients have been preparing for the excursion. “A certain level of commitment was required,” explains Stiven. “We’ve been doing weekly hikes to prepare and we had meetings with them to talk about the gear.” 

Good preparation is key, as clients are expected to be able to hike four miles with a fifty-pound pack on their back. “We also talked about teamwork: who’s going to make meals? what kind of meal are they going to make? Who is responsible for clean-up? There is a nice level of working as a team.”

Meals will be basic: oatmeal and breakfast bars in the morning, sandwiches for lunch, rice and pasta dishes in the evening—nothing fancy. At the end of the experience, clients are supposed to feel good about themselves. “There may be some level of anxiety about getting out of your routine but getting out of one’s comfort zone is part of the deal,” says Stiven. “Getting back to nature also means working through that. You’re not in the comfort zone of your room.”

“Having a sense of accomplishment and being able to carry what you need for the next three days on your back and get by is huge,” explains Stiven. “This will significantly boost our clients’ self-esteem.” 

The self-esteem necessary for clients to succeed in the wider community can be strengthened on a wilderness trail. At Colorado Recovery it is our mission to help adults with serious mental health issues stabilize their illness, minimize symptoms, improve functioning, and enhance each person’s social inclusion, quality of life, and sense of meaning in life.

If you have questions about our recovery model or our services to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and similar mental illnesses, call us at 720-218-4068 to discuss treatment options for you or the person you would like to help.