Where I Go When I Need to Shake Off Anxiety

Photo by Cindy Y. Rodriguez

Photo by Cindy Y. Rodriguez

Based on my Instagram gallery, it may seem like I’m always living my “best life ever” and have absolutely no worries but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I go through my ups and downs just like everyone else. Most of the time I have a handle on it but there are times that I get hit with a little monster called anxiety and it feels like I’m kind of drowning.

It feels like my heart is racing and I can’t take a deep breath. I feel very uneasy and a thousand thoughts are running amok in my mind all at once. According to Google, I have high functioning anxiety. Fortunately, I’ve gotten to know myself well enough to recognize what the solution is and it almost always means I need nature. A walk in the woods. A hike if possible. A run in the park. Even a long bike ride along the Hudson River. Basically anything involving me and nature.

I can’t figure out if the solution to my anxiety is nature or if I get anxiety because I am not in nature (if that makes any sense). But science has said time and time again that nature heals.

It may very well be one of the reasons why I would come back so refreshed from my trips to Peru. My mother would take me to my grandparents land 2 hours away from Lima where there was no cell phone service, cable, WiFi, and the closest landline phone was about 3 miles away at my aunt’s house. I would walk along the river near my grandparents house and dig my fingers into the dirt and rinse off in the cold river. Climb the trees. Be outside all day playing with my cousins and fall asleep under the stars with the smell of incense or palo santo burning nearby. I never once missed TV or the internet while out there.

When I would get back to the city, I felt at ease with myself. I felt refreshed. It’s been way too long since I’ve been in Peru, 7 years this September. That’s a long time for me considering I used to go every year at least once a year, sometimes twice. I’m so thankful to my mom for taking me to Peru every year while growing up. I miss it. But it’s made me realize that I need nature in my life in order to function properly.

Occasionally, I take my friends with me to the woods but it’s only a handful of people I feel comfortable doing that with. Because once I’m out there, I often go into my own world. I’ll take photos of one thing for about an hour or sit near a tree and stare at the river. And, last night was no different.

After being home all day on Friday, by Saturday I was beginning to get a little stir crazy. I called a few friends asking if they were interested in watching the sunset in the woods with me. Two weren’t able to but my friends Cynthia and Steve were, which I was thankful for because that meant I wouldn’t be alone in the woods come nightfall. Even for a badass like me, it can be a little nerve wracking to out there alone. I quickly packed a blanket, red wine, fresh blueberries, cheddar cheese and water crackers. We got there just in time.

As soon as I started driving down the windy road and saw the trees, I started to feel my anxiousness die down. We stopped to take pictures of the waterfalls on the path. Talked about life. Took countless photos. Listened to music. Watched the rain fall in the darkness. We even meditated for a little bit.

It felt like we were out there for days. And, we were only there for a little over 2 hours. We all felt at ease once we left. Funny enough, my allergies went away once I was deep in the woods. That was strange. This particular place is called Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey. Check it out. 

Lesson learned: If I don’t consciously make time for nature, my mind and body will tell me when it is time to go out and get it. I’m going to make sure I make this a weekly priority so that my anxiety monster doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Nature heals. Even if you can’t make it out to the woods. Go to the park. My mom says, “Desfógate” which literally translates to “Unwind” but her belief is that the only way to do that is by being in the woods. The Japanese call it “shinrin-yoku”, meaning "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing.” Literally being in the presence of trees have been proven to “lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.” Not bad.

Don’t believe me? Try it and let me know how you feel afterwards.