Walking is a great way to do some exercise without over straining yourself and is generally considered good for your overall health. There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that walking can help with mental health too and I am definitely an advocate for that. If you’ve read a few of my other posts you will notice that whenever I put forward tips for managing anxiety or for feeling better I usually mention getting outside in the fresh air in some capacity. Of course this is what works for me but I want to share with you why and how it helps me to feel better and hopefully it might inspire you to pop on some comfy gear and take a hike round your local area.
I am a natural over thinker and with that tendency comes some unwelcome but frequent anxiety (sometimes from nowhere). I am not saying that popping out for a walk will cure your anxious days (although I would love that to be the case) it is more a coping mechanism and I find, helps with prevention – you know what they say, prevention is better than a cure! Getting outside and being amongst nature is actually something I do regularly to manage my over-thinking ways. So this week I thought I would take you on a hike with me so you can see the what, the why and the how. Take us on a hike with you? How in the…. Ok so not physically take you with me but I am going to document my hike and show you how this is helpful and what I do whilst I am out that I find beneficial.
To start, depending on my mood the length of walks vary sometimes they will be very short (maybe a mile at most) just to get some air and to be distracted. Other days I can go around 7-8 miles on much harder terrain. I will also mention I am quite lucky in that I live in the Cotswolds and so there are many beautiful places to walk but don’t let your local area put you off if it isn’t as glamourous. The whole point is to take in some nature and reset your busy mind so location isn’t as important as actually doing it.
Once I get out of the town and into some greenspace it’s really important to embrace the change of environment. I like to slow my pace down, remember this isn’t a march to the finish line; this is a journey for you, by you and not just a task to tick off your list. Slowing down allows you time to actually observe your environment and to notice things you usually wouldn’t when you are walking at speed to get somewhere with a busy mind. This time is yours and it’s a really good time to practice a bit of mindfulness. There is a great sketch on the internet of a man walking his dog and the man is thinking of many different things but the dog is just thinking about the walk – it’s a powerful image that reminds us how easy it is to miss present enjoyment because too much time was spent worrying or over-thinking.
Once I slow down I try to pay attention to little things in the natural world that I wouldn’t usually notice .A few examples would be the birds or the changing of the seasons, how the trees look and how the environment is evolving into the next season – the small stuff that you walk past every day and don’t give a second thought. I also try to take a few calming breaths- I always think it’s important to take in some fresh air when you find some. It’s key that you try your best to remain focused while you are out, if your mind wanders (which it probably will) try to bring it back to the walk. Where I walk there is a little river which runs through and I like to spend a few minutes here just listening to the water babbling away. These are the moments I can honestly feel grateful and practising gratitude is another positive thing you can do for your overall mental wellbeing (check out this post here noting how you can incorporate it into your daily life).
I didn’t have much time today so I did around three miles which isn’t bad going at all. I saw some pretty awesome sights I wouldn’t have noticed had I not gone out and its definitely cleared my mind a bit. If nothing else I feel a bit brighter for getting some exercise and a welcome distraction from my thoughts.
Modern life makes setting time aside for yourself quite difficult but if you are feeling a bit under the cosh I would say take a quick time out and get out in nature. It’s scientifically proven to enhance your mood and even if you come back feeling no different, at the very least you have taken some exercise and that in itself is something your future self will thank you for.