Gearing Up to Get Outside

Blair Anne Hensen, MS, LCPC, NCC
PACT Level 2 Therapist

As the daylight grows longer and temperatures get warmer, it’s time to get outside! Nature is an incredibly important part of wellness. Stepping out of our human-made worlds and into nature offers presence external to ourselves. Simply taking in the sensations — the sound of birds singing, the deep smell of a forest, the feeling of sunshine warming our skin in the spring — allows our attention to move outward.

Spending time outside as a couple has significant benefits: movement, laughter, play, presence, connection are all stress reducing effects. But sometimes getting outside for activities is stressful. It takes planning, deciding what activity to do and how long you want to be out, gathering the right gear, communicating about skills and possible risks. The list goes on. 

Depending on where you live, you may face difficult elements. In Montana, where I live, the weather can change rapidly. Traveling in the mountains includes additional risks, such as bears, rock fall, navigation, and avalanches. When weighing such incredible benefits alongside risk, it is important to check in with your partner and decide how you plan to manage risk as a couple.

Let’s say this next weekend you and your significant other decide to plan a day out to your local public land. What do you need to pack and take with you for the day?

First, you have logistics to coordinate.

  • What kind of activity do you want to do?
  • How long do you want to be out?
  • What kind of gear do you need?
  • How much hydration and food will you need?
  • What are your safety plans/first aid?
  • What risks are present (predators, temperatures, elements/environment, personal health factors, exposure)?  

Once you have your plans and gear organized for the activities, what kinds of things do you want to make sure are packed with you in your relationship toolkit? 

Secure functioning creating a relationship that is dependable, reciprocal, trustworthy, and nurturing — is essential for every relationship. Make sure you include a few essential items of secure functioning in your weekend plans. 

Negotiation.* How do you decide what activity or plan mutually benefits both of you? This how is a key ingredient for secure functioning and decision making. If only one person benefits from the activity, the relationship loses. 

If one of you wants to hike a longer trail to a lake, and the other wants to do a shorter loop with a break for lunch, what skills can you use to create an outcome that fits for both?

  1. Use curiosity to learn about each other’s goals and desires for the day. The more you understand each other’s needs and wants, the better you can come alongside each other to make a plan.
  2. Decisions will take creativity to determine a way to satisfy both goals. Could you plan a trail that is a medium length and include a long lunch to chat and take in the views? Could you do one option together one day and the other the next? You usually can find a way through to make sure both partners feel satisfied with the plans. Advocating and looking for creative solutions takes both of you to work on them together.

* Rule of thumb: if one of you feels like you are not getting a good deal, it is a no-deal.

Awareness. Are you paying attention to each other? Do you know what your partner likes and dislikes? Stay attuned to how ideas are landing for your partner. Remember, you are the experts on each other, so knowing what excites and scares your partner will be a huge asset to your negotiation process. 

A lot of emphasis in PACT is placed on eye-to-eye communication. If you are not looking at each other, your brains will use memories from past experience instead of current information. Meaning if you are not looking at each other’s face and reading the expressions of your partner in the present, then you may be working off memory of your partner’s reactions in the past. Make sure you take the time to create a good plan, and pay attention to each other’s emotions in the process.

Empathy. We all have different experiences of fear, risk, and pleasure. If your partner is experiencing fear or stress about the idea, do you know how to care for them? What calms them in the midst of fear? What excites them? Some individuals need external regulation (moving toward others), while others need autoregulation (moving away from others). Work together to identify each other’s emotions and support each other’s needs with empathy in a moment of stress.   

An empathy statement can look like, “I see how scared you are about spending the whole day out on the trail, and it makes sense you are nervous about […bears, exhaustion, etc.].” When we can name each other’s emotions with care and compassion it can calm and slow down nervous system activation.   

Co-regulation. Stress is the physiological process of hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, non-epinephrine) releasing into the body to help us tackle the stressors or stress-inducing aspects around us. Each of us, when we feel stressed, have different ways of regulating or releasing stress. Those regulation skills were typically onboarded when we were young children based on our interactions with our caregivers. 

For example, if we were met with care and attunement and a soft soothing voice, our stress levels may have quickly dissipated with our loved ones. If we had other experiences, such as dismissal or annoyance when we cried out, or if we were left alone, we may have learned to not seek others when we are stressed. Knowing more about each other’s experiences in the past helps develop your toolkit for helping your partner regulate when they are overwhelmed. Soft, caring words help us down-regulate stress. 

Acceptance. Accepting each other’s current skill level and interests is key. If you or your partner have expectations or hidden goals, these can add pressure and strain to the relationship. Use conversation starters to discuss your goals:

  • What ways do we envision spending time together outside? 
  • Are there activities you want to learn together? 
  • Are there any activities that are “off the table”?

Safety and Security. Keeping each other safe — on and off the trail — is a vital resource. Make specific plans for how you will keep each other safe when you venture out together and when you are separate from each other. If you plan to be an area out of service you can carry a satellite contact device (i.e., inReach, Spot, SAT phone) in case of emergency. Make sure you have first-aid training, supplies, and appropriate skills for navigating terrain options depending on the season and environment, such as avalanche training if you go backcountry skiing. 

Know that each of these ingredients take time to discuss and create plans for. Use this blog as a guide to check in throughout the year before your seasonal adventures. The more you prepare your relationship and yourselves for your adventures, the more you minimize possible risks and stressors when you head outdoors. Plan ahead, have fun, and stay safe out there this summer! 


50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.