“That sounds scary.” “Aren’t you afraid by yourself?” “I could never do that.” Those are the most common responses when I tell people that I am going off on my own to experience a solo camping trip. It makes me wonder– when did humans become so afraid of being alone in nature? For most of human history, we’ve been entrenched in nature and fully connected to the elements.
I get it– feeling uneasy is a common response to solitude in the wild. As a mental health professional who specializes in anxiety, I am familiar with irrationally perceived dangers such as the fear of flying, when it’s 2000 times more likely to die in a car crash. Being harmed while hiking or camping is possible but it’s quite rare. For example, 75 % of women who have experienced assault are harmed by someone they know well, not a stranger sneaking up on you while you’re camping out. In Emily Dickinson’s words: “When much in the Woods as a little Girl, I was told that the Snake would bite me, that I might pick a poisonous flower, or Goblin kidnap me, but I went along and met no one but Angels, who were shyer of me, than I could be of them.”
It's important to note here that racial complexities have prevented outdoor areas from feeling safe for members of the BIPOC community. I am aware of my privilege as I am advocating solitude in nature.
Of course, we must be sensible and tell someone of our itinerary. It’s also a good idea to choose places for your solo hike with cell reception, or purchase a satellite communicator. Hiking and camping alone isn’t unsafe yet adding precautions is a reasonable thing to do.
“Aren’t you afraid by yourself?” You bet. There are moments when the sounds out of the dark woods paint my body with cold sweat (this one goes out to you baby fox – how do you sound like an infant being tortured?). So, yes, I do get frighted now and then. Which is something I am proud of – having the ability to lean into fears because on the other side awaits growth and strength.
I’ve come to believe that a key marker of mental health and happiness is one’s ability to enjoy solitude. Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia reported that one-quarter of female and two-thirds of male test subjects chose painful electro shocks rather than endure simple stillness. Is it fear or discomfort that drives people to such extremes?
Yet, I believe the desire for solitude is primal. Humans are made for connection and community. The lone Cowboy’s image of rugged individualism couldn’t be more counter to numerous psycho-evolutionary theories that identify our innate need for belonging. Nevertheless, it is essential that we, on occasion, take intentional time for reflection and re-connection with self and nature.
My solo camping trip provides time to simply pay attention to myself. My thoughts, my wishes, my joy of being with the natural world. No one to worry about when I turned up my playlist and sing along while building a fire. By myself! A real confidence builder.
Just like fear, loneliness sometimes arises too. I had a loneliness-moment during a recent evening campfire. Sitting by the bonfire, I longed to share that special moment with someone. In an instant, Toad jumped on the fire ring and stared me in the eye as if to say “I really like your fire.”
I admired his earthy brown and white coloring. He stayed with me the entire evening and his presence cured my loneliness.
Sometimes, go solo– knowing that you aren’t really alone anyway.
If you are intrigued by the idea of a solo venture but don’t know where to begin, send me an email. I‘ve created a step-by-step guide on “Solitude Practice for Health and Happiness.”
About the author:
Heidi Schreiber-Pan, Ph.D., LCPC, is a successful psychotherapist, the Executive Director of Chesapeake Mental Health Collaborative, and founder of the Center for Nature Informed Therapy, a sought-after international speaker and trainer. She is also the author of the popular book Taming the Anxious Mind – A Guidebook to Relieve Stress & Anxiety.
Heidi lectures, consults, and trains professionals in the mental health sector and in corporate and public settings on anxiety, stress, resilience and nature, neuroscience, and occupational burnout. Her work focuses on how to restore our relationship with nature to improve and sustain our mental well-being.