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  1. #1
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    Default Panic Attacks on trail

    I've attempted small sections of the AT a couple of times as well as a few other trails in the SE. Each time, I've had to get off early due to strange panic attacks (some worse than others) I get this odd feeling of panic, claustrophobia, fear, etc. At first I thought it was just physical exhaustion from the hike, but I had to cancel a hike in May because of that feeling before I even got in my car to drive to the trail. I guess it's the feeling of not having an escape in case something happens on the trail? I don't have these episodes anywhere else except when thinking about being on the trail. I'm not an uptight person, I'm very laid back so this whole thing is strange to me. The thought of giving up hiking kills me! I love the trail and love being on it but these episodes are ruining it for me. Anyone else have this experience? Remedies?

  2. #2
    Registered User jfarrell04's Avatar
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    I've had several similar experiences...almost debilitating. Doc prescribed ativan and it seemed to do the trick. Good luck!

  3. #3
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    Have you thought about a Garmin InReach device? Or something that would let you send an SOS if you got into trouble. I got one for the Sierra's on my PCT thru hike. It was nice having the peace of mind that I could signal for help if I got into trouble.

    An alternative solution would be to find a hiking buddy.

  4. #4

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    Much like you describe, a few years ago I developed a similar serious anxiety issue. These attacks were very unpleasant and pretty much rooted me to the ground when they occurred. I was not able to isolate the cause until I visited with a therapist and found there was a connection between what seemed to be a broad number of conditions. He taught me some simple tools that helped solve the acute level of anxiety attacks and over a very short time with him I was able to identify the cause and get past it completely. The therapist had a fairly simple explanation why anxiety issues develop as we get older, . There are a lot of things that happen to us over a lifetime, some things we may not deal with completely along the way and we bury them. Like a pot with a lid, keeping the lid on these things is fairly easy in our 20s, 30s, and 40s. As we go into our 50s (and older) the heat builds in the pot and we are not as able to keep the lid on. Anxiety (panic) attacks are the result of the lid coming off periodically.

    I wasted a lot of time trying to tough it out and wish now I had acted sooner and found a therapist specializing in anxiety issues to help, which I recommend for you. It's probably not anything about hiking or backpacking itself that is the root cause, it's more likely something that in these activities that triggers the anxiety, a noise, the feel of certain fabrics, certain colors in combination, a partial memory, etc. Some people frequently dismiss mental health professionals out of hand, but a good anxiety therapist can determine if the condition merits prescription drugs or if a short course of therapy is in order. Given the similarities of your post, I suspect the latter will be beneficial.

    This is a very uncomfortable malady and I hope you are able to figure out the root cause. Good luck!

  5. #5

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    Thread: Anxiety (on the Trail) - Lets Talk About It

    Hope this helps, I battled with it through my entire AT completion until I sought out professional help and found that indeed it WAS effecting other areas in my life as well. Feel free to PM me maybe I can help
    Anxiety (on the Trail) - Lets Talk About It
    Trail Miles: 4,007.6 - AT Trips: 70
    AT Map 1: 2004.8
    AT Map 2: 265.0
    Sheltowee Trace Map: 84.0
    BMT Map: 57.7
    Pinhoti Trail Map: 0.0

  6. #6
    Registered User JNI64's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pcarlson View Post
    I've attempted small sections of the AT a couple of times as well as a few other trails in the SE. Each time, I've had to get off early due to strange panic attacks (some worse than others) I get this odd feeling of panic, claustrophobia, fear, etc. At first I thought it was just physical exhaustion from the hike, but I had to cancel a hike in May because of that feeling before I even got in my car to drive to the trail. I guess it's the feeling of not having an escape in case something happens on the trail? I don't have these episodes anywhere else except when thinking about being on the trail. I'm not an uptight person, I'm very laid back so this whole thing is strange to me. The thought of giving up hiking kills me! I love the trail and love being on it but these episodes are ruining it for me. Anyone else have this experience? Remedies?
    I think alot of us go through this on some level especially us solo hikers. I know I did when I started this as a new hobby and interst. You say you had to stop a hike in May well with all that's going on this year i think alot of folks are having panic attacks. I wouldn't be so hard on myself about that one. Agree with others I would suggest a hiking partner or talking to a therapist.

  7. #7
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    I don't have panic attacks on the trail, but sometimes I feel unsettled during the last few days before a backpacking trip. I've always attributed that to the subconscious sense that by venturing outdoors, I am increasing the level of things outside of my control - weather, snakes, whatever. I always feel a lot better when I wake up on the morning of departure. From that point forward it's a matter of putting one foot in front of another. As long as I can focus on that, instead of focusing on the global "trip" and its uncertainties, I'm fine.

    I sometimes wonder if the electronic age increases the feeling of anxiety that we feel. To venture out, we must untether, at least to an extent. We become unplugged from so much of the stimuli that makes us feel connected, informed, aware, more secure. In this electronic age, we always have instantaneous access to help, family, work. When you venture onto the trail, that access is diminished, sometimes dramatically.

    I've never had a cell phone, so that's just a hypothesis on my part.

  8. #8

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    I've been coping with anxiety/depression for close to thirty years now. I initially had a whole lot of unhealthy escapism coping mechanisms. Reading, exercise, games, overeating, sleeping, and even hiking. What I found was that the more I drove myself solely into a specific escape, the less effective it was at solving my anxiety, especially as my finances were falling apart around me, due to my stupid escapes. I needed escapes from my escapes, and it wasn't great for me.

    After varied counseling techniques the one that stuck with me, was creating lists of priorities based on a hierarchy of "how does this action benefit me." For a long time I had the hardest time doing something positive without a panic attack, and the desire to retreat to an old habit. So, I still do my lists of priorities, and real life things get done eventually, I build in limited time for escape, or I slightly delay my escape, and I find I enjoy everything that much more. My chores are less stressful, my escapes are more relaxing. It's comforting to me to have a method.

    I do a whole lot of pre-hike planning, but... then I largely ignore that planning, and leave it for a worst case scenario to turn to in the case of emergency (It's comforting to me to have a plan, even if I end up not needing it.) I stay flexible based on my mood at the moment. I can stay at a shelter if I'm feeling sociable, or I can lay up short, or just past the shelter and stealth camp if I require solitude. I always bring my Kindle, so if necessary I can use a reading escape from my hiking escape, rather than an expensive flee from the trail escape. It's kind of a brief pressure relief valve before I start thinking negative thoughts.

    Your mileage likely will vary, what works for one person might cause more stress in another. Experiment with different mental health professionals, until you can find one who suggests a method that works for you.

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