How I Used Nature To Quit My Anti-Anxiety Medication For Good
One scroll through Annie Jensen's Instagram account will tell you most of what you need to know about her: There is nothing she loves more than hiking, backpacking, and summiting peaks.
"As soon as I moved back to the West side of Washington after college, I started spending a lot of time in the mountains," Annie tells mbg. "One day I felt compelled to climb Mount Pilchuck, and that's where I met my current boyfriend, who is a mountaineer. From that point on it's been an obsession. I ended up backpacking solo in New Zealand and summited 18 mountains. Since then it's always been my escape and a way to recharge my batteries."
There's more to Annie's story than her love of hiking. She is also a nutritionist who has struggled with anxiety issues, and she gives the mountains credit for helping her heal. Here's what she told mbg about how hiking has helped her grow, change, and cultivate unique relationships with women in her community.
How hiking changed her anxiety.
Annie has suffered from anxiety for most of her life. It got so bad that she was eventually prescribed anti-anxiety medication, and before she started hiking and climbing regularly, she didn't know there was another solution. "The mental health benefits you get from climbing mountains is amazing. It has really helped my relationships—so many trail talks!—and it's just so peaceful in the mountains. The wellness factor of it mentally is probably my favorite aspect," she says. "I suffer from pretty bad anxiety. I used to have to take medication for it, but now I don't. Hiking is a natural stress reliever. It helps me with my breathing. When I'm in the mountains, my anxiety level goes from a 10 to a zero instantly."
Cultivating a strong relationship with food through nature.
While healthy eating has always been a priority for Annie, her relationship with food grew much stronger once she started spending more time in nature. "When you're surrounded by plants, trees, and water, you cultivate this unique relationship with plants," she explains. "You get to know nature, and you can see how everything flows together. It reminds you that we need certain things to function properly. I've definitely found my relationship to nutrition has grown over the years."
Eating on (and off) the trail.
As you'd probably suspect, Annie's diet looks very different depending on whether or not she's in the mountains. "When we're hiking, especially if it's strenuous—we climbed 6,000 feet in one day recently, and I had a 45-pound pack on—and you're burning a ton of calories, you need to replenish constantly. I had a bag of candy I kept snacking on, and I bring dried bananas or dried fruits, nuts, almonds, and seeds."
When she's not climbing, what Annie eats in a day looks very different. "I'll start my day off with a smoothie, eggs, or cottage cheese—just something high in protein. At lunchtime I have salad or soup, and at night I try to eat lean protein. I also snack throughout the day."
Cross-training with yoga.
In order to summit all those peaks, Annie has to be strong—and she achieves that through a combination of cardio, strength training, and yoga. "I go to the gym a few times a week and get on the stair climber, because that's pretty much climbing mountains," she says with a laugh. "I also find that yoga is very beneficial because it's calming, relaxing, and makes you more flexible, which makes you a better climber. If you're ever with a party and someone falls into a crevasse, it's up you to save that person. So you have to have a lot of strength."
In addition to meeting her boyfriend in the mountains, Annie has found her closest female friends through hikes and backpacking trips. "My closest relationships have been developed through the mountains and hard times and learning to survive," she says. "You just create this bond with people that you can't really get in your day-to-day life. When you go into the mountains, you really get to know who somebody is."