Before moving to the Lake District, my brain had become stuck on a constant loop of replaying my past. A recent breakup created a domino effect of events, and I found myself living back at my childhood home without a job or much direction on where to go next. I spent more and more time curled up on my sofa, scrolling social media and feeling like I’d failed compared to other people my age.
Searching for answers, my mind would replay past events and create a series of ‘what if’ scenarios. What if I’d just done that instead? What if I’d not said those things? Would things be different now?
The overthinking of my past and anxiety for my future ticked away in the background during the daytime and less silently when I tried to sleep at night, a low-level hum of distraction I carried daily.
On a whim, I applied for a job in the Lake District. I’d previously spent time in Scotland, and the French Alps, and I was keen to return to a place where I could connect and immerse myself in the landscape. I got the job, temporarily silenced my anxieties about everything that could go wrong and packed my belongings up to move to the Lake District.
I arrived without expectations, making a deal with myself to just see how things would go and take things day by day. I also vowed to spend a little time outside each day away from my phone, no matter how sad or low I felt. I began with short walks from my house in Keswick down to Derwentwater, marvelling at the towering hills, which started to put my world into perspective.
Little by little, my confidence grew. I progressed from the flat lakeshore paths to the uneven ground of those towering hills I had admired when I first arrived.
Walking alone in the hills, I felt the physical act of moving my body helped me to unravel and unpick my past events that had become so tightly wound up when curled up on the sofa at home. It was uncomfortable at first not to be distracted by other people, domestic life or technology. But I found a clarity and honesty within myself I had previously been missing. So often, our problems remain stuck and unattended as we bury them in the busyness of our day-to-day lives.
During these walks, I began to notice the tiny details that would usually sail past me in my distracted state of mind. I began to notice the exact week when the leaves started to unfurl after the long, cold days of winter. I noticed when the dandelions popped up in the grass like little rays of sunshine and gently turned into delicate fluffy seeds within weeks. I noticed when the tall purple fox gloves bloomed, standing to attention like soldiers in the wind, bringing a splash of colour to the emerald hillside. The more time I began to spend outside, the more tuned into the world around me I became rather than lost in the haze of my past.
As I began to climb higher hills, my belief in myself grew. I began to remember that I could do hard things, overcome obstacles, and trust myself again. Concentrating on navigating these environments again pulled me into a state of present-day awareness with a basic and primal need to keep myself safe.
It would be over-simplistic to imply that my time living in the Lake District has meant an end to cycles of overthinking and low-level anxiety – they still return occasionally. But I have found a tool that helps ease these thoughts. Regularly committing time to walk alone outdoors has allowed me to become much more present in my life and press pause on that never-ending loop of overthinking.
Tips on how to embrace the power of time outdoors –
– You don’t need to head off into the hills or woods to feel the benefits of spending time outdoors – a park, a river, a canal, or a local green space can still be beneficial. Focus on being outdoors with yourself rather than trying to find a perfect location.
– If you can, try and set time aside each week to spend outdoors to make it become a natural part of your routine. When our lives are busy, the first things that usually fall by the wayside are the things that benefit us most, but even 10 minutes of being outdoors can help us feel refreshed and refocused.
– Ground yourself in the moment by focusing on your senses individually – notice what you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste. Try to allow your mind to become focused on the present moment. If your thoughts drift to the past or future, gently bring your attention back to your senses or breathing.
– Try leaving your phone and headphones at home or placing it on aeroplane mode to allow yourself to embrace your time outdoors fully.
– If going for walks or spending time outside is difficult for you, consider making a space for nature in the corner of your home by nurturing house plants or arranging cut or dried flowers to give you a soothing and calm area to retreat to.
Rebecca is a writer and hillwalker based in Ambleside, find her on Instagram at @lookwithneweyes and at www.lookwithneweyes.com.