5 Ways To Manage Post-Trail Depression

Feeling blue is perfectly normal after a summit or the end of a long-distance hike. The mundane world awaits, and the light that guided you through the drudgery has gloriously exploded. Every year, hikers cope with this transition. There’s plenty of great advice on the subject already available – exercise, get outside, talk to your trail family, etc.

I’d like to share what worked for me.

#1. Limit your time on social media

The first tip, and arguably the hardest. Social media is a mixed bag. While staying in touch with trail friends helps you feel connected to your new life, it’s also keeping you in a bubble. Eventually, you’re going to have to come back home, and the longer you live vicariously through your own memories, the lonelier that homecoming will be. Anyone who has tried to limit time on social media knows it ain’t easy, though. My best friend recently told me a brilliant trick – she only lets herself use social media at the gym. If you’re struggling after a hike, this is about as good as it gets. A major component of post-trail depression is adjusting to less exercise, so this is a way to ease yourself back mentally and physically.

#2. Make something from the memories

I’m not talking about quilting together your old trail clothes, although now that I see it in writing… to the sewing kit! There are endless outlets for your fresh enthusiasm and momentum. If you’re a data cruncher, post your favorite thru-hiking stats. Budding photographer? Make a calendar from your best trail photos and send it to friends and angels. People are creating amazing, useful things after their hikes, things that benefit the larger trail community. One example is, you know, Appalachian Trials. Halfway Anywhere started a post-PCT survey that is an invaluable resource to prospective Pacific Crest hikers. Two of my sobo buddies ran some Appalachian Trail Q&A’s at libraries in their home state. Making art or functional projects, whether personal or public, is a great way to preserve your trail memories while simultaneously moving into a new phase of life.

#3. Start planning for your next adventure

Okay, maybe it’s cheating a little. This is more of a distraction tactic than a healing method (although thru-hiking can create some healthy skepticism in the American system, so perhaps this is now your preferred way of life). Aside from the other two Triple Crown hikes, there are beautiful trails across the country. The Ice Age Trail in the Midwest, the oft-overlooked Ozark Trail, the Long Trail, Colorado, John Muir, Oregon Coast. And hey, don’t stop at backpacking. After our sobo thru, my partner and I planned and executed a cross-country bike tour. Planning is a fun, harmless way to funnel your restless energy away from the whiskey and oreos.

#4. Tell your off-trail friends and family that you’re struggling

“But they don’t understaaaaaand.”
I know. And they don’t. Still, things can get dark, and the more communicative you are with the people around you, the stronger your support system. This doesn’t have to be self-indulgent Oprah stuff. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of being honest when people ask how you’re doing (and telling them you’re in a funk if they don’t ask). Here’s my pro tip: if they invite you to go somewhere with them, do it. I never feel like going out when I’m depressed, but on the rare occasion that I do succumb, I’m quite glad I did.

#5. Ride the wave

The bottom line is, you won’t feel better a minute before you’re ready. There will be good days and bad days (and terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days). If you can find some peace in the idea that this ache will lessen with time, you’re better off for it. I’ve nerdily enjoyed applying my thru-hiking lessons to real life, so when I’m struggling, I remind myself of those first-week mountains; all you can do is keep going, even when it’s hard, when it hurts, when it feels like you’re not making any progress. Then, unexpectedly, things start to level off and you’re at a beautiful view, and everything feels like it’s going to be okay.

So here’s to the hike that was, here’s to the present that is, and here’s to moving up your next mountain, whatever it may be. Not all mountains are stone.

Happy trails!

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Comments 2

  • Fusion : Sep 2nd

    Even my therapist had no idea what I was going through. My advice is to “be gentle on yourself” and take things day by day. For myself and at least one friend it took nearly 2 years to “recover.” Remember that your family and friends don’t know your world, don’t know what you experienced, and let’s face it, it would take an insane amount of effort to figure out and they’re not going to do that. As I recall only one person could relate on the displacement…a combat veteran. Now here’s the good news: you know something they don’t, have seen a side of life they haven’t. Be humble, be patient, be willing to teach, only if and when asked. There is trail magic outside of the trail and people will surprise you. Thru Hikers, you earned a mental upgrade and you are cream-of-the-crop, so make it count and keep it classy.

  • BunnyHikes : Sep 11th

    may I add to your list #6: Move!!! move move move! Your body was used to moving a LOT for a LONG time. It consumed a huge amount of calories and expended an equal amount if not more. You had adrenaline pumping through your system.

    Get off the trail and all that is gone. It’s gone and your body craves it. Get out of the house and be physically active. Maybe take up trail running. Yeah you can do that now and you probably didn’t even realize it. 😉 Spinning or trail biking. Dog walking …. or running. At least let your body get back to it’s pre-hike metabolism gradually rather than cold-turkey. It will thank you!



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