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Warriors Combat Anxiety and PTSD through Nature Walks

When everyday stressors mix with ongoing isolation, it can be difficult for those with anxiety and PTSD to get out of the house and socialize. For the past several months, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has organized socially distanced group hiking in Arizona to help warriors connect and get back to nature.

Learn more about WWP programs for veterans with PTSD.

Navy veteran Samara Songer has noticed changes in her stress levels since she started hiking. “It’s just so refreshing to be able to get out and just be with nature. To not have to talk or think, but just be around other veterans is so freeing. It’s so nice to be away from the city and be away from crowds.”

She explained how being with other veterans but still having alone time on these hikes helps to recharge her mentally and physically. “Sometimes when I go on the hikes, I can put in my earbuds, and I’m just to myself. Other times, I’ll talk to people on the hike and have a good time. It’s just a huge stress relief being able to be out with people, but not too many people that it feels overwhelming.”

WWP knows connection with other warriors is vital and these hiking adventures are doing just that in a comfortable environment for veterans. “Whether you have anxiety about being around other people or things from the military that you really can’t talk about with those who might not understand, Wounded Warrior Project gives you the chance to explore and express yourself in a safe and guided environment. I really enjoy and appreciate that so much.”

Every warrior faces a unique journey, and that's why WWP offers many programs focusing directly on addressing PTSD and creating coping skills. In a WWP survey of the wounded warriors it serves, 83% report living with the symptoms of PTSD.

National Guard veteran Denise McCarson explained how these hikes help her specifically with daily stress. “There’s the stress of every day, and I pack it all up when I go on a hike. It’s like all that negative stuff is gone. It gets sucked out of you. You feel human and have some normalcy.”

Denise says the spectacular views contribute to stress relief as well. “Certain times of the day or year, I’ve gone on a hike and seen the sunrise, and I just think, ‘that’s what this is all about.’ With each hike, you will never get the same sunrise or the same plants. You could walk down the same path 10 times, and it’ll look different every time. It helps with regular life. I come home and even though there’s chaos, it looks better. The chaos looks better. The hike is like a reboot.”

The aspects of nature mirror a lot of real life for Denise. “There are burnt trees among new trees. This reminds me of how I felt about Wounded Warrior Project. There’s negativity, emptiness, baggage — but when we’re all together, something new is growing.” 

WWP teammate Ashley James organizes and leads these hikes to get warriors back into nature and out of a self-isolating mentality. Hiking allows connection through a shared passion of being together outdoors.

“This gives warriors the sense of camaraderie that they had in the military,” Ashley said. “We have to overcome any obstacles that we have on our path together. Maybe a route is unavailable due to a tree falling, or something obscures our way, so we have to change course. This requires the ability to be flexible and resilient; it’s about having the mentality to come together as a group and overcome the challenges that life presents us with.”

Joshua Parks, works for the VA in Arizona and helps Ashley organize and lead these hiking groups. His focus on adaptive sports, recreation therapy, and his passions for hiking are what inspired him to team up with WWP warriors. “I wanted to help veterans dealing with PTSD get back to civilian life. I thought it’d be really great for the veterans to work together and provide resources both within the VA and outside.”

Getting back to nature and the teamwork that accompanies hiking in a group not only ease anxiety and depression but can provide a new perspective on everyday life. Denise explained how attending these hikes, along with other WWP events, changed her life for the better.

“There was a time when I stayed in my room because I was scared and paranoid, but I knew I had to try,” Denise said. “It’s been a huge change for me since participating in Wounded Warrior Project and these hikes. I can give back now. I can turn back now and take care of others. I never thought I was going to get here, but it’s a good feeling.

“Wounded Warrior Project has brought me out of misery. They saved my family, my world, my state of mind, my well-being. It’s hard to put it all into words, but it’s from the heart. Thanks to Wounded Warrior Project, we all got here, to this place in our life.”

June is PTSD Awareness Month. WWP offers mental health services for veterans and families coping with the invisible wounds of war. Get connected today or read more about how WWP helps.

Contact: Erin Cinney — Public Relations, ecinney@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.832.5326

About Wounded Warrior Project

Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition.