Take It Outside

TrailTalk Heber

In 2010, Allison Page had an epiphany. When stressed or overwhelmed, a day on the trails with her girlfriends or a walk outside on her own was what helped her most. Realizing her best thinking and problem solving was done when she was outside walking, she began formulating a business plan, and TrailTalk® was born. The idea and now one of the company’s leading taglines is this: “taking therapy off the couch and onto the trail.”

On the other side of the country, in Baltimore, therapist Megan Perry was sitting in a dark office with no windows, wondering what other options were out there. She began searching and discovered an innovative idea out of Park City: the opportunity to own a TrailTalk affiliate. After one trip, her first-ever visit to Utah, Megan was in. She and her husband moved across the country from Baltimore to call Heber home. When asked what drew her to TrailTalk, Megan stated, “This idea of walking and talking, not just being outdoors, but having that movement piece, could really elevate people’s experience with therapy and maybe make it even more productive than just sitting on the couch.”

Megan had often wondered why we tend to compartmentalize physical health from mental health. Incorporating the outdoors and movement with mental health sessions just seemed to make sense. Combining the two has the power to enhance the whole therapy experience. Megan shares, “The theory and concept behind TrailTalk is to increase the integration of physical health with mental health . . . to give people more access to mental health therapy, and to take the stigma away from it.”

How does taking therapy to the trail promote physical and mental health?

Bilateral stimulation: Walking creates a rhythmic left-right motion that helps process traumatic memories or events and feelings. Walking can help us generate new ideas.

Vitamin D: Getting out in the sunshine provides your body with the much-needed benefits of Vitamin D. In addition to numerous health benefits, Vitamin D is vital for regulating absorption of calcium and phosphorus; it promotes a healthy immune system, protects your teeth and bones, and improves the body’s resistance against certain diseases.

Exercise: Activity and movement improve mood and burn calories.

New Experience: Being in a different or fresh environment helps us stay curious and explorative.

Practicing Mindfulness: Hearing birds chirping, leaves rustling in the breeze, and a stream gurgling down the hill provides an enjoyable scenario to practice being present and grounded.

While hitting the trail is an excellent option for many, it’s not the right fit for every person or every kind of therapy. If an office visit is more conducive to a client’s needs, TrailTalk also has an office-on-wheels option. Their TrailTalk vans are equipped with a comfortable, quiet space to sit and converse.

You may wonder if TrailTalk could be a good fit for you. Therapy is a wonderful option for people dealing with life crises: grief, life transitions, anxiety and depression, trauma, etc. However, therapy can also be largely preventative in nature. We see a doctor for our yearly health exam and a dentist for our biannual cleanings. We might visit with a financial planner to get our budget figured out and retirement in order, or a personal trainer to get our exercise regimen just right. Why not make a tune-up visit with a therapist to consider the state of your relationships or your progress on personal goals? Therapy is great for those who need to repair and heal, but it can also be approached from a wellness model to help people “thrive rather than just survive.” It’s for people who are working to be more authentic. It’s for people who feel stuck and can’t quite pinpoint why. It’s for people who find the same problems continually resurfacing in their relationships. Really, it’s for people seeking personal wellness in all aspects of life. Megan shares, “If you just feel like you’re not making the progress that you want, that’s when it’s time to come in and have someone who’s trained to see those patterns take a look.”

How can trained professionals help? A therapist can help you identify where you may be stuck. They can offer ideas and resources, steps you can take, and areas where you might want to try a different approach. They can help you to see something from a new perspective and give you the tools you need to problem-solve in your own life. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of sessions to empower clients to move forward with clarity in an area they find challenging.

One area that many of us find challenging is gracefully getting through the long winter months. Winter can genuinely challenge our mental health. Megan has several ideas that promote prime mental wellness during the coldest season:

Get sunlight and Vitamin D: Even though Utah gets cold, we still get a lot of days with sunshine. Make an effort to get outside and catch some rays, even if it means bundling up. Getting sun is our most important natural source of Vitamin D. You may want to talk to your doctor about supplementing with Vitamin D as it can be difficult to get enough during the winter months. Megan says, “People think they have to go out and do a 10-mile hike. You just need to walk around the block.” Any outdoor activity is fine; just get outside every day!

Socially engage: If we start feeling a little depressed, it’s easy to isolate ourselves socially. We have to push against that. Megan’s advice: “Send that text. Do that game night. Go to that dinner. Sometimes when you get depressed, you don’t feel like it, but doing something is always better than doing nothing.” She adds that our efforts to socially engage are critical to preventing or decreasing the severity or intensity of depression.

Exercise and sleep: Getting your heart rate up and blood pumping can boost your mood and improve your mental state. A good wind-down routine at night can help set you up for a good night’s sleep, especially if you suffer from anxiety. Megan uses a cell phone analogy: “If you leave all your apps open all day, your battery is dead. You have to close out all the different apps constantly, so your phone stays charged. And your brain is the same way. If you go through your whole day and do no processing, by the end of the day, you’re on complete overload; then, you’re going to just sit there and think about stuff.” If this describes you, this next tip can be incredibly helpful.

Take mini mental breaks: Try to take little pauses throughout your day. When you feel an emotion, pause and recognize what caused that feeling. Confront it. It’s easy to live our days completely over stimulated and constantly multi-tasking. Sometimes it’s helpful to slow down and do something mindfully without distraction. Doing this allows us to quiet the mind. Megan shares an example of how to do this, “If you’re washing the dishes, just wash the dishes. What does it smell like? What does it look like? What does it feel like?” If mindfulness feels foreign, it may be helpful to be guided through it a few times. Headspace is a great app to help you get started.

This year of uncertainty is almost over. It has given us an incredible opportunity to lean in rather than resist. Megan shares some pertinent advice as we contemplate the changes we want to make in the coming year, “Go ahead and take that step. If people are anxious about making a change, perhaps that’s a sign that they need to back up and make it smaller and . . . more manageable.” Her closing words of advice to carry you through the new year, “Take your values and vision and align it with action. Actions don’t have to be grand, and they don’t have to be huge. It’s just picking something. Something is better than nothing.”

By Cassidy Duhadway, LCSW

One of the most important things for humans is connection. Belonging to a group and being connected to them helps us live longer, be healthier, and have more happiness. Being told to separate ourselves from others can cause harm to our physical and mental wellbeing, as individuals and as a society. It goes against our instincts and desires. It can breed loneliness and fear of other people.

Some of the physical and psychological effects of social distancing may include:

Dealing with these effects, recovering from this pandemic, and healing from it is going to take work, both collectively and individually. We will recover, we will move through this. It will be essential we do so in a way that allows for mental wellness and healing.

RESILIENCE IS THE CAPACITY TO RECOVER FROM DIFFICULT THINGS.

Building your resilience will enable you to recover quicker. However, it is not as easy as just saying, “I got this” and “I’m going to get over it,” it requires action.  To allow our whole self to heal, we need to do the mental, physical, and spiritual work. As we improve, we can bring our families and communities with us.

“WAIT… IF THAT’S ALL I HAVE TO DO, THEN HOW DO I DO THAT?”

The short answer? Through hard work. Unfortunately, it’s not something we can achieve overnight. It’s something we have to practice over and over again as we build our skills and resilience.

AWARENESS AND SELF-COMPASSION

Becoming aware of our body, reactions, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and how we are actually doing is mandatory for having more choice and control in our lives. But, awareness in and of itself is hard to learn how to do. Do we know how our bodies and minds react to each other? Do we have an inner critic that is always in charge and shaming us? Having an awareness of these things allows us to start to have control over what is going on internally.

The KEY here is self-compassion — learning to be aware of what is going on in the moment — understanding what is going on and being kind to ourselves in our suffering. Self-compassion means allowing ourselves to be human, struggle, suffer, and to grieve without judgment or expectation. Self-compassion and awareness are the foundations for building resilience and healing.

SELF-CARE

This is more than pedicures, massages and working out (although those are great). It’s the simple things we do every day to take care of ourselves, to improve our mental and physical well being. It’s important to look at everything we are doing for self-care; if we are hyper-focused on one or two specific things, we are not taking care of our whole selves.

How we practice self-care looks different for everybody. Some ideas might include:

Self-care can be a struggle. For some, there is an underlying belief that we need to serve others before we take care of ourselves; that behavior is harmful. When we ignore our self-care or put it last, we have less ability to support and help those around us. If we continue to give, when we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we experience increased rates of physical and mental illness.

MINDFULNESS

Currently, our community is experiencing a considerable amount of anxiety, panic, and fear. Learning mindfulness will help counteract those feelings and help us to shift our focus away from unhealthy worry over what is happening and what might happen.

Mindfulness is the practice of being present, of dealing only with what is going on right now. It is learning to allow whatever it is, regardless, without judgment. It’s connected to self-compassion, decreased anxiety and stress, and an improved state of mind.

CONNECT WITH OTHERS

Engaging and connecting with others will always be important to humans, but it is especially crucial to surviving and healing. The way we connect might not always be ideal and may be difficult, especially with the added fear of getting sick. Finding ways to connect virtually or learning how to reconnect is a vital part of the healing process.

The last several months have been trying and stressful for many of us. If you are struggling, that’s ok. Know that what you are experiencing is a NORMAL reaction to an ABNORMAL event. You will get through this.

Please know this is NOT something most of us can do on our own. Getting support and help from friends, family or a professional during these times will help us build resilience, survive, and heal as individuals and communities.

Cassidy Duhadway, LCSW, is the founder of Purple Sky Counseling in Heber. She specializes in women’s issues, trauma, anxiety, depression, PTSD, C-PTSD, low self-esteem, children and teens, life transitions, negative self-talk, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EDMR), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, faith transitions, and LGBTQIA.