Using the Outdoors as My Own Therapy

We all have our reasons for hiking and being outdoors. I have talked about some of mine, such as it being a good family activity, it usually does not cost money and I love how I feel when I am out on the trail. There is another reason that I have mentioned a couple times, but do not talk about a lot. I hike because I am a Social Worker. I like to keep my personal and my professional life separate. With March being National Social Work Month I thought it would be a good time for me to break out of that shell.

Growing up I spent a lot time in the woods around limited people due to my parents’ jobs. When we were around others it was usually adults. I was actually a very shy kid. This may come to a surprise to those who know me now. I can remember hiding behind my parents in social situations and being afraid to speak in public. In Middle and High School that really changed. I became more out going and was no longer the shy kid. This is probably due to the great friends I had.

Age 18 at the Bottom of Allagash Falls after a graduation trip down the Allagash with my father.

Age 18 at the Bottom of Allagash Falls after a graduation trip down the Allagash with my father.

When I was in high school I had to start thinking about my career. I was volunteering at a local elementary school and I really enjoyed talking with the kids. I was also a peer mentor. I can remember someone saying, “she would be great because she is friendly with everyone.” It is true I do not think I was part of a certain crowd. I had a group of friends who I hung out with the most, but I would spend time with just about anyone. From my early years in high school I knew I wanted to be a social worker.

Fast forward 18 years, wow that seems like a long time since I graduated high school, and I am still a Social Worker and overall happy with the profession I have chosen. There have been opportunities to work with various populations thanks to internships and my jobs over the years. I have worked with the homeless, children with developmental delays, those struggling with mental health symptoms, the at risk elderly, in a primary care and hospital setting and with patients going through cancer treatment. All of these opportunities have taught me a lot about myself and help me grow as a social worker and person.

Being a Social Worker is not easy, the demand of the job can be overwhelming and ware on you. I have been threaten, yelled at, called nasty names and swore at. There is also the limited resources available for those in need. Along the way I have been frustrated, swear more than I should, sad and wanted to quit. The majority of the time I am able to keep my professional and personal life separate, but there are times that my job gets to me. I turn to my husband, friends and the great outdoors to get through these difficult times. After a long week my body and mind crave being outdoors where I can get away from it all. I am thankful for my outdoor background and community to which I use as my own therapy and self care, which I talk about in Finding Myself Again. This was my application blog post when I was applying to be an ambassador for Hike Like a Woman.

After work hike to  Garwin Falls  in Wilton NH

After work hike to Garwin Falls in Wilton NH

Being a Social Worker is not always difficult or I would have not stayed in the profession this long. It is the people you actually help and are thankful for your assistance that make all the difficult days worth it. Having a patient reach out to thank me for my support and tell me that they are doing better is the best part of my job. It usually brings me tears of happiness. There are also the wonderful co-workers I have met along the way that have made the job enjoyable. If it was not for them I may have quit. Many co-workers have turned into friends that I still keep in touch with as I have moved forward in my career. All of my opportunities have helped me grow into the Social Worker I am, which has led to my current job, an Oncology Social Worker, where I truly love and find joy in my job.

My own self care and what I have learned over the years has also helped me be able to stay in the career for 14 years. Thanks to where I live, I can come home, throw on my hiking boots and go for a hike to unwind from the challenges of the day. In the summer, one of my favorite after work activities is to hike to a local swimming hole. This gives me some exercise, family time and to swim in a cool lake, my favorite things.

Willard Pond  in Antrim, NH

Willard Pond in Antrim, NH

The other thing that hiking and being a social worker does for me is to help bring things into perspective. What truly matters in the world. It is my family and friends. No matter how difficult work is at the end of the day my family and friends are the ones that mean the most. There are always other jobs, but there is not another family or close friends. This is a big reason why I try to keep them both separate. I spend enough of my time at work, when I am home it is family and me time. Yes, I said me time, because in order to have good self care you need to incorporate me time. Whether it is hiking alone, or with my hiking group, or going for a massage, you need to take care of yourself.

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Everyone’s job, no matter what it is, has some level of stress in it. As Americans we spend a lot of our life at work and that can make us feel overwhelmed and stressed. Remember once in a while to step back and evaluate your situation. Make sure you are taking time to evaluate what is important to you and spend time doing that. It took me a few years to learn this, but I am overall happier, less stressed and more content in my day to day life than I ever have been. All thanks to my own therapy in nature.

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