Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 is from 15th – 21st May and this year’s theme is anxiety. Anxiety can impact us in different ways, such as worry or fear, and it may be that you only experience it on a mild level or more severely.
One of the most important things you can do when you feel anxious or experience a negative change in your mental health is to talk to someone. However, it isn’t always that easy to open up to a loved one when you’re sitting across from them in the same room. But walking together is a great way to encourage talking, sharing and appreciating the great outdoors.
Why walking and talking works
Whether it’s a walk-and-talk therapy session or just a casual stroll with a relative or friend, walking and talking is a great way to open up to someone. For example, eye contact can make some people feel a little uncomfortable or increase their anxiety but with your gaze focused on where you’re going, you can change the dynamics and make the situation feel less intense.
Walking also helps people to open up about what’s on their minds, particularly when they’re outdoors and enjoying the mental health benefits of being outside and immersed in nature.
Walking for your mental health
There is a lot of pressure in today’s society for people of all ages and walks of life. Whether it’s social media causing you reduced feelings of self worth or you are stressed and anxious about something at work, moving house or trying to get your life back on track after an accident, walking can help to make you feel better.
While it’s not a cure for what is giving you feelings of anxiety, walking in the great outdoors is linked with reducing depression and stress while improving your overall mood. The fresh air and natural surroundings spark feelings of joy, creativity and calmness which helps to reduce anxiety or stress.
Many people also feel more awake when walking in nature and those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can help reduce feelings of depression when surrounded by natural light. Without adding too much strain on your body, walking can help you to increase your level of physical activity, improving your overall fitness and boosting feelings of body confidence.
Walking for your physical health
Being able to walk in nature and immerse ourselves in its restorative beauty is something almost all of us can enjoy. Walking is one of the most accessible activities because it’s free, simple and few to zero restrictions are stopping you from exploring the world under your own steam.
Of course, walking is also a great way to increase your overall level of physical activity and even a brisk 10-minute walk can make a difference to your stamina levels and heart health while burning calories. Walking also boosts blood flow around your body, revitalising your muscles and brain which helps to provide you with more energy. These benefits can be experienced while walking on your own but they say a problem shared is a problem halved and walking can also help get you talking.
Communal walking trips
Walking in a group or with one or two others is a great way to engage in relaxed conversations about our lives. Whether we decide to open up about what’s on our minds or we just want a casual conversation and a catch-up, walking is a great way to do either or both all in the same trip.
Communal trips are great for reducing formal social barriers and helping us to open up, whether we are walking with friends and family, getting to know our colleagues from work better, on a one-to-one with your boss or even strangers in a meetup group.
If you don’t have anyone to walk with, consider joining a walking club to introduce a fun and safe form of activity or exercise. As walking is a low-impact exercise it reduces the pressure on our joints that other activities may bring and there is no need to buy expensive equipment to get started, all you need is a pair of comfortable shoes and your own two legs.
Boosting your motivation
Whether you are exploring the great outdoors one county at a time or just taking it day by day, there can come a point when your motivation wanes. There is a connection between your mental health and motivation and you can use walking as a way to help reclaim your spark.
Here are a few ways that walking can boost your motivation:
- Making you accountable – you are less likely to cancel a mental health-boosting walking trip if you arrange to do it with another person. If they are feeling unmotivated then you can help to inspire each other.
- Making time for self-care – we must do what we can to look after our mental health. Self-care through walking is a great way to make us feel better, increase feelings of calmness and provide some perspective on life and prioritise what matters most to you.
- Making progress – set yourself small, achievable goals that you want to gain from your walks. The more success you have with these goals, the more you can look back on your walks with pride at what you have achieved and maintain your motivation to continue achieving more. That might be a walking-related goal like traversing Dartmoor or simply walking for 10 minutes each day.
Soothing your anxiety by walking with friends
For Mental Health Awareness Week consider going for a walk with someone you love, whether that’s to speak about something impacting your mental health or to allow them to share what’s on their mind in a more relaxed environment. Perhaps it could be the start of a new routine where you spend time together in the great outdoors while walking, talking and sharing what’s on your mind.