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Photo credit: YOUTHOPIA/SARAH ALYSHA

How hiking was a boost to my mental wellness

The benefits of hiking extend beyond physical fitness and include improving mental wellness.

Khalisa Zulkiflee

Creative writer and comedian on the side.


Published: 14 September 2021, 11:43 AM

I have been feeling a little bit of brain fog lately, and was pleasantly surprised to be asked by my co-worker out on a hiking shoot. 

It was set to be at Macritchie Reservoir, an hour away from my place. Going out of my house at 6am in the morning, I wondered if it would turn out as good as I’d hoped. 

As soon as we arrived, I was greeted by beads of morning dew on the bits of grassy patches creeping between the cracks in the ground and a cool, misty breeze fanning my face. 

My mood perked up almost immediately. 

Working from home and dealing with my insomnia while going through a pandemic took its toll on my mental health, and nature provided me with some respite from my problems away from the concrete jungle. 

This is how a hike helped me with getting a much-needed break away from my desk.

A break from negativity

When I run or brisk-walk around my neighbourhood during my weekly exercise, I tend to ruminate over my problems. This makes me obsess over past mistakes and bad experiences, and often leaves me feeling depressed. 

Being in a natural environment at the boardwalk at Lornie Trail, however, my thoughts slowed down and my mind quietened. Looking out over the tranquil waters and its occasional ripples made by small water animals had a calming effect on me. 

 

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The Lornie Trail has two routes – one by the boardwalk and one cutting through the forest. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/SARAH ALYSHA

 

Running through nature and getting enough sunlight is known to help decrease stress, depression and anxiety. 

Surrounded by green foliage and sounds of animals calling out to each other, I felt distant from my usual anxieties surrounding work or personal life. Instead, I was filled with wonderment at how my worries seem so trivial while in the midst of nature.

Unplugging from technology

My life has always been all about social media. I document my daily experiences online, be it on Instagram and Twitter, or texting my friends via Telegram. Recently, my screen time even reached an all time high, averaging 15 hours a day. 

Living life through social media can be overwhelming as I follow many news sources on several platforms. The hike gave me a much-needed break from the virtual world. At one point, my phone even lost all signal. 

Normally, this would be a cause for panic, but at the time, I only felt less tethered to my responsibilities outside of the natural world I was in. I didn’t have to constantly check notifications and was able to feel more present in the moment. 

 

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Macritchie Reservoir isn’t all forest trails and boardwalks – there’s also a golf link, Jelutong Tower and a Tree Top Walk. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/SARAH ALYSHA

 

While going on the hike, I noticed that I spent more time admiring the dense foliage, listening for the sounds deep within the forest and looking out for animals.

Getting a chance to slow down, breathe in the scents of the forest and hearing the crunch of dead leaves beneath my feet was calming and made me feel cut off from the hustle and bustle of city life. 

Hitting pause on my phone for about four hours on the trek helped relieve some of the pressure I felt from my daily life. The morning air cleared my mind (and sinus!), boosting my energy levels greatly. 

Getting a much better rest that night

As someone with insomnia, sleep doesn’t come easily to me at all even when I’m tired. When I fall asleep, I don’t usually sleep for more than five hours. 

 

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As someone who gets nightmares often, going to sleep with an idyllic scene of sprawling trees lining the glimmering reservoir was a treat for me. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/SARAH ALYSHA

 

After the hike, my muscles felt pleasantly sore and worked up a huge appetite. While the hike didn’t help me fall asleep any faster, it did make it easier for me to enjoy a deep sleep. 

Usually I would constantly get up in the middle of the night, or wake up and not fall back to sleep, but on that night I slept for four hours till my alarm went off. 

Hiking is a good bonding activity

The hike was my first time meeting my co-worker after months of working remotely, and I was initially nervous if we wouldn’t be talking much during the activity. 

But as it was relaxing for us to be in nature, it was easier for us to be at ease with one another and our small chats soon turned into fits of giggles, not unlike many other hikers and joggers that we passed by. 

 

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The zig-zag bridge and sunken walkway was our first stop. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/KHALISA ZULKIFLEE

 

The more we walked, the more groups of people we saw laughing heartily and chatting while running and walking. It warmed my heart to see many smiling faces along the path. 

Although we were unused to being so deep within nature and were hesitant to venture further at some points, we always felt assured by the presence of other long-time hikers. 

Some were even friendly enough to talk to us when we took breaks, and offer us help when we looked lost. 

Spending so much time living in our smart nation made me forget how serene being surrounded by nature can be. The 11km walking trail of Macritchie Reservoir definitely was worth my early morning. 

If you are looking for more mental well-being resources, check out Youthopia’s resource page with everything from mental health self-assessments to tips for coping with challenging seasons in life.


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