Walking for wellbeing

Volunteer and mentor Lesley Jenyns gives her advice on how to go for a walk to alleviate a stressed or anxious mind.

Uncertainty and fear can be two big causes of anxiety and stress.

By focussing on our immediate environment and immersing ourselves in nature, you can feel calmer and more relaxed.

Wherever you are, and however far, walking and using our senses to observe the world around us can be a positive and grounding experience. Creating a routine by walking regularly can be beneficial, calming, and produce a sense of wellbeing. 

Recognise your signs of stress

Learn to recognise signs of stress in your own body. Create a little check list before you set off:

  • Are my shoulders tense and hunched?
  • Is my breathing short and shallow?
  • Am I frowning? 
  • Am I constantly checking my phone? 

If possible, leave your phone turned off, or at least on silent. This reduces the temptation to be distracted. 

Stand for a moment and become aware of your body from your toes to the top of your head.

  • Shake out one leg, then the other, for a few seconds
  • Form a fist, then relax, a few times
  • Shrug your shoulders up and down
  • Shake out your arms
  • Close your eyes and slowly take several deep breaths - in through the nose, out through the mouth

Observing

As you walk, start to focus on what you can see around you. We often look down at our feet when distracted. Focus on looking around, left and right, up and down, and stopping when something catches your eye.

Birds are an excellent thing to look for:

  • Are birds feeding, competing, building nests, looking for mates?
  • Follow one bird with your eyes looking at shape, colour and movement 
  • Are the birds solitary or in flocks, in trees, hedges or out in the open?

Look up at the sky and notice how fast the clouds are moving. If there is water nearby, look at the reflection of the sky in the water. Think about the blue sky that will always be behind the clouds.

Stop and take time to see the sun shining through trees, hedges, plants, buildings. Observe shadows and how they change at different times of the day.

How many different varieties of fungi and moss grow in any one place and do they prefer shade and damp conditions, shadow or full sunlight?

Listening

Separate out the sounds around you – birdsong, traffic, sirens, breeze, voices. Take time to focus on each sound and how it comes and goes.

Start to differentiate between birdsongs and animal noises. Notice the difference between listening with your eyes open and your eyes closed.

Sense of touch

If the sun is shining, turn your face towards the sun, eyes closed, and feel the warmth on you face. There may be a breeze, if so, notice the direction it comes from. If it is raining, how do the raindrops feel on your face?

Close your eyes for a moment and become aware of all the different sensations. Are different parts of your body feeling warm or cool?

If you are able, gently touch moss, tree bark, wood and stone and notice different textures.

Sense of smell

Take some deep breaths and become aware of the smells at different parts of your walk, some pleasant and some unpleasant.

Trees shrubs and flowering plants all smell very different throughout the day - close your eyes and try to identify separate plants.

Wellbeing

As you walk and engage your senses, become aware of how other thoughts may still be in the back, or forefront, of your mind. Allow thoughts to come and go.

If, when walking, you find a place that makes you feel calm, remember the place. It can be helpful to visualise a place and remember how calm it made you feel.

At the end of the walk, take time to check how you are feeling compared to when you set off. Is your body less tense? Is your breathing deeper and slower? Have you experienced moments along your walk when you have felt less anxious?

Keep a journal

One idea might be to keep a journal noting down dates, walks and things observed. As the seasons change, so will observations, thoughts and ideas. A journal entry can comprise writing, drawings, jottings, scrap-book items – anything. You may feel inspired to write just a word, a line, a paragraph or a poem. Write about how you are feeling.

Do you know someone you might be able to ‘Buddy Up’ with? Someone who might also enjoy walking and with whom you could compare notes and observations over the phone? 

House interior

Things to do at home

If you are self-isolating or living alone it is important to speak to at least one person a day if possible, even if just for a short chat. You could call someone, or use an app like FaceTime or Skype.

Possible projects you have been meaning to start may include:

  • Sorting old photos into albums
  • Mindfulness colouring books
  • Jigsaws
  • Catching up on reading
  • Learning to knit
  • Learning to sew
  • Follow a free online yoga course

If space allows, and you have access to a garden or window-box, try cultivating seeds and growing flowers and vegetables.

Useful resources

Mind: mindfulness exercises and tips

Headspace: guided meditation and mindfulness

Yoga with Adriene: free online yoga classes

Samaritans: to talk to someone

Citizens Advice Bureau: for advice