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Walking Without a Backpack: A Call for Helping Professionals to Release Stress

Updated: Jul 6

Peaceful wooded trail on a sunny day, highlighting the experience of walking without a backpack to reduce stress and enhance mindfulness.
Discover the benefits of walking without a backpack and releasing stress in nature with our latest blog.

"If you need anything in the meantime, feel free to reach out," I said to a client one hot day in June. I had just spent several sessions conducting nature-informed therapy at a local park in Baltimore County, Maryland. Tired, sweaty, and ready to go home, a thought crossed my mind: “I need to get my steps in for today. I should take a hike for myself.” I debated what the next hour would look like. Eventually, I decided to hike, but with one condition: I would do it without my backpack.

My backpack is my travel buddy; no nature sessions or hikes happen without it. It carries my med kit, bug spray, sunscreen, water bottle, binoculars, rope, and rain jacket. Any perceived threat I can imagine has a solution stored in my pack, but all of this comes at the cost of carrying extra weight. Normally, I see this as an opportunity to build endurance, but by the end of the day, I am always worn out. Traveling without my backpack seemed like a crazy thought. Every nature enthusiast has to carry the essentials. However, I knew I needed to get my steps in, and the weight was holding me back.

As my walk began, I noticed that I felt light, almost as if my sails had caught a gust of wind. My mind and thoughts slowed, but my movement felt free, as if I had lost 30 pounds. I could move as swiftly as the tree swallows flying around me. Everything around me started to feel more enjoyable: the bird songs, the breeze, the plant life, and even the bugs. My curiosity about the environment grew, and I felt connected to the space around me. The moment became more enjoyable, and I could fully be present without my backpack weighing me down. When I returned to my car, I felt like a different person.

As a professional in the helping field, it can be hard to walk without your pack. Often, the duties and responsibilities of our professional lives bleed into our personal lives. Nurses and doctors come home and provide aid to their families, a therapist listens to their partners/friends vent about their day, and a teacher helps their children with their homework. While we all need to fill these responsibilities from time to time, if left unchecked, these behaviors can lead to exhaustion and burnout. Personal reminders to drop our packs are just as important as the care we provide. 

Dropping your pack can be taken literally, as in my case, or metaphorically. Everyone's backpack will look different. If you struggle to identify the weight you are carrying, use your imagination and visualize yourself putting all of your responsibilities into a backpack. It will likely fill quickly and feel heavy. Then, switch to an activity or hobby that you enjoy. I always recommend a hike through nature. If you can turn off your phone or silence it, that can help eliminate any extra noise.

The uncomfortable truth is that everyone will tell you to drop your backpack, but no one will tell you when or how. No one told me to hike without my backpack. That is our own responsibility that we bear. While dropping your backpack can feel like losing a part of your identity, it is how you can focus on other parts of yourself. Of course, by the next day, I was wearing my backpack again, ready to take on any obstacles that nature would throw at me and my clients. I need my backpack to do my job effectively, but there is a part of me that needs to take a walk without it. We should all honor that part of ourselves a little more.

About the Author:

Timothy Ayd, LGPC is a dedicated therapist at Chesapeake Mental Health Collaborative. With a passion for nature-informed therapy, Tim integrates the healing power of the outdoors into his practice, helping clients manage stress and anxiety through mindful engagement with the natural world. His approach is grounded in a deep understanding of the therapeutic benefits of nature, offering a unique and effective path to mental well-being.

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