18 months ago, I was hospitalised with a respiratory illness. This alongside a barrage of other issues at that point in time, lead to me suffering with symptoms of poor mental health. Stress, exhaustion, low mood and thoughts of hopelessness and worthlessness impacted work, social life, home and every part of my existence. I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, clinical depression and PTSD. Although I was prescribed medication and treatment nothing seemed to help.
The first lock down and the fear of catching Covid was a wake-up call, and I realised something had to change.
Something had to change
I had never been a particularly active person or even an outdoors person, but I started going for short daily walks. Initially at first to try and build back up my physical wellbeing, as the respiratory illness had left me feeling weak and fatigued.
I decided to participate in the 2.6 Challenge in April, walking 26 miles in seven days. I investigated local nature spots within one hour walking distance of my home.
With stunning sun rises, ducklings, baby lambs and the blossoming of flowers it felt like I was experiencing the beauty of spring for the first time. Even the wind and rain felt more refreshing. I found myself looking forward to daily walks and the sights I would see.
The benefits of being outside and exercising really was helping to improve my mental wellbeing. After all it is very hard to feel sad when you are watching three fluffy baby geese with their Mum and Dad waddling around Poole Park.
Over time I have challenged myself to walk longer distances and explore parks and nature reserves further afield.
The benefits of switching off and walking
Being outside away from technology and the stresses of life has become a purpose, the more time I spend walking in nature the more I am able to switch off and the better I feel. This has become a definite positive for helping to manage the challenges and boundaries of working from home.
I have also discovered that thinking about worries felt easier while I was walking. What may seem like the biggest catastrophe at home/work compared to the enormity of nature and the beauty outside somehow didn’t feel as significant. This has helped me re-frame my thoughts. I would often start a walk feeling very tense and sometimes crying my eyes out, but by the end I would feel calmer and more able to process stress and face problems.
Interestingly, walking has also become a gauge as to where my mental health is at. I know that if I am struggling to leave the house to walk, or if I walk and I don’t feel better at the end of it, that this is a sign that my mental health has dipped. This may mean I am just tired and need to rest. But it could also be that I need to reach out for professional support.
Having a goal helps
Taking part in Dorset Mind challenges has helped me connect with others and share the joy of walking in nature. Through the winter Step-up Challenge, I participated with my son. He was living and walking in London, and I was walking in Dorset. Every day throughout the challenge we would share photos and experiences of walking with each other. This helped us to feel more connected too, even though we couldn’t be together.
I know that initially I was dubious when people said going for a walk can improve your mental health. But if you are struggling, I highly recommend giving it a try.
The power of walking in nature really has improved my mental health and changed my life.
Special thanks to…
This article was written by our anonymous blogger – you know who you are, thank you.
For Mental Health Awareness Week this year, the theme has been nature. We’ve been asking staff, volunteers and our friends to write blogs and share how nature has impacted them.