Recently, I’ve felt like there’s been too much negativity in my life. From discovering I have debilitating chronic pain issues that may never have a definitive solution, to being extremely overwhelmed with work and the idea of graduating, to trying to figure out the next steps in my life—it’s just been a stressful few months.

When things start looking too bleak, I used to immerse myself in books, TV shows and movies. Anything that would distract me for a while. Eventually, though, this stopped being a satisfying remedy. The books I wanted to read were all political in nature, and the shows that actually maintained my interest were full of drama and way too much action; both of which stressed me out in the time I was trying to unwind.

It got to the point where I was constantly wound up, constantly worrying about the next thing I had to tackle to get through the week. There was no “off” time. That is, until I started exploring nature.

I’m not a particularly athletic person, so it was a surprise to me when what really helped me unwind was fresh air and hiking. My love affair with nature truly started to develop last semester when I took a spontaneous trip to Palo Duro.

Most of my friends that had recommended it to me since I first moved here had said it would be one of the most beautiful views I’d ever seen. Simply put, the canyon wasn’t that impressive. It didn’t matter to me, though.

There was something about being outside in the sun, pulling cold air into my lungs and focusing hard on each step as I took it that relaxed me. This felt contradictory. I grew up in the city, so I was never accustomed to being truly in nature. Not only that, but I have chronic pain that often affects my day-to-day life. It seemed odd that I would be so thrilled by the outdoors in the way I was that day at Palo Duro.

My love for nature grew even more in December. The only thing I asked for last Christmas was a trip to Panama, my mother’s home country. I just wanted to see my family, to escape being overwhelmed for a while. I didn’t anticipate I would find my way back out to nature.

As a kid, I always hated when my family would want to take me anywhere outdoors in Panama, a country thats climate can only really be described as very hot and humid. I despised sweating so much and having to constantly fend off mosquitos. But not this time.

Where I previously felt annoyance and discomfort, I was able to find peace and meditation. I found quality time and profound conversation with my uncles and my grandparents, picnics at the culmination of our hikes and views. Of course, it was insanely humid out, but the further we got from the city and the higher we hiked, the air began to cool down significantly. I realized the harder I pushed myself, the more I was rewarded.

I could feel all of the stress roll off of my shoulders with each step I took climbing to the peaks of the hills and mountains of my mother’s first home.

I could find so many professionals who would have a lot to say about why I felt so good when I started falling in love with nature, that it lowers blood pressure and reduces stress for a number of reasons that I couldn’t begin to understand. But none of that matters, really, at least not to me.

The only thing that matters is how it feels to take a real break from the pressure of my daily life, to be surrounded by nothing but silence and the sounds of animals nearby. Hiking may not be something I can access every single day, and it definitely isn’t a fix-all for everything that happens in my life, but at least there is something that is successful in bringing peace into my life.  

For those of you who feel overwhelmed by life sometimes, I strongly recommend making some space in your busy schedule or over the weekend to spend time outside. I recommend taking that time to not think about anything. Instead, just exist. This is something that strangely has given me motivation to keep going.

Sure, I still haven’t been able to pick that stressful, action-packed show back up, nor have I been able to finish the book about the politics of Puerto Rico. But with one step at a time, hopefully both will be picked back up and finished, just like all of the other pieces in my life: one step at a time.

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