How to use hiking to deepen your relationship

i amIt’s no secret that spending time in the woods, whether on a hike or in a cabin or tent surrounded by a tapestry of trees, can be a real dopamine boost. Why? For millennia, humans have survived and thrived in nature. But spending time in the great outdoors can immediately pay off not only for yourself, but for your relationship as well.

If you’ve ever been trekking in the mountains and found yourself in a deeper, more meaningful conversation with your hiking-buddy than ever before, it’s no coincidence. As the National Park Service says, one of the top benefits of hiking outside of mental health is relational health. Whether you embark on a leisurely nature walk or a very challenging climb, going on it with a partner, family member or group of friends creates a shared experience that can help strengthen the bond between you.

And it has science to back it up. A new study funded by LLBean shows that sharing a sense of wonder in the outdoors creates deeper social connections and friendships. And in a study published in 2021 Applied Psychology: Health and Wellness, researchers found that when comparing 20-minute indoor and outdoor mother-daughter walks, and the mood and content of conversations between each, spending time outdoors together significantly increased positive interactions between mothers and daughters and reduced negative affect (AKA feelings of emotional distress). . Which surprised us…

Can hiking increase communication?

“Hiking in nature is a form of exercise that releases endorphins; endorphins are brain chemicals that produce good feelings,” explains author psychologist Alison Nerenberg. There is no perfect love. “Increasing endorphins leads to less stress and anxiety, better sleep and better mental health, and when your body releases endorphins, you often feel less stressed and anxious and more open to communication as opposed to isolation.”

Then there’s the fact that hiking and being surrounded by nature can help put things in perspective. “Being surrounded by nature reminds us that our problems are smaller than we think and that we are part of a spectacular world,” says Dr. Nerenberg. “If we feel overwhelmed and afraid to share our struggles, we realize that our difficulties are not as great as they seem.”

Because of this, Dr. Nerenberg says difficult conversations can usually be easier while hiking. “When you’re huddled around a table trying to have a serious conversation, it can feel uncomfortable and one or more people may become closed off or defensive,” she explains. “When you’re out hiking in nature, it lets go of the pressure of a formal sit-down conversation and allows you to take a deep breath and relax. You’re often more concerned about your breath when you’re walking up a slope, or focusing on beautiful surroundings. And communication can be easier.” For many of us, it’s often easier to have difficult conversations without looking directly at the other person.

In addition to making conversations less intimidating, hiking encourages people to be more present After all, in order to hike and not accidentally break a leg, people usually put their phones and other screens away. By removing these outside stimuli, there is more room to truly connect with the person or persons you are hiking with. That’s why, even if you have a chance to take a break between sitting or commuting, clinical psychologist Megan Jones Bell, Fitbit’s clinical director of consumer and mental health, says to fight the urge to check email and social media. Media while in nature. “To reap the most benefits of being outdoors with others, it’s important to be present and engaged,” she says

How to tap into conversations and connections in the great outdoors

If you’re not sure how to initiate a free-flowing conversation, Dr. Bell recommends asking questions. “To break out of the ‘how was your day’ routine, try asking open-ended questions to check in and invite sharing,” she says. Don’t be afraid to tackle big things. “When sharing an activity outside it can be easier to leave room for silence so sometimes deeper conversations can feel more accessible.”

Another option is to start your time in nature with a walking meditation. “People can spend more of their time outdoors practicing regular mindfulness together,” says Dr. Bell. “During your travels, consider trying a running meditation or a guided breathing experience in the Fitbit Premium app. By combining moments of mindfulness with conversation, you’re more likely to enjoy the hike instead of waiting or getting distracted by the destination.”

To increase connection, Dr. Nerenberg suggests letting the other person know how glad you are that they’re with you — gratitude goes a long way and can help us open up more comfortably.

But keep your expectations realistic. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he says. If you struggle with communication with a loved one, the first time you hike together might not be an amazing conversation—just focus on creating a positive enough experience to make you want to hike together again.

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