If I’m having a day where negative thoughts are getting the better of me it’s normal for me to hideaway in my room and block the world out. To me that is comforting, it’s familiar and it makes me feel safe, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best thing for me to do. At times, yes, it certainly is the best thing for me to do – for me to hide under my duvet and watch TV, read a book, have a nap, or to seemingly lay there for hours either with an empty mind or a mind full of negative thoughts, mulling over all the negative things in my life. The thing is – I know that for me that can be quite a negative decision – to withdraw from those around me, to isolate myself from the world. I’ve begun to acknowledge and notice the difference between taking time out for myself and resting as an act of self-care, to isolating myself and feeling rubbish as an act of self-sabotage.
Going for a walk is a simple, easy activity for some. And I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve practically barricaded myself in my room and made excuses to not go for a walk with my friends. When my mood is low it seems like a huge task going for a walk, especially with those I know who care about me. I overthink everything, I worry about what conversations will pop up – will I be able to hold a conversation – will my friends have fun with me – will I bore everyone? And let’s be honest, they can still go for a walk without me. The outside world will still be there tomorrow – I can go for a walk tomorrow. Now, I can imagine someone reading this thinking “gosh, get over yourself, it’s just a walk, you’re being silly” – well, honestly, going for a walk can seem like the biggest task in the world when you’re at war with yourself. And for some, lack of energy, lack of motivation and even physical ailments can make going for a walk seemingly impossible.
It’s widely known that physical activities, exercise – including walking – can have a positive impact on our mood. Often it been suggested to me that when I’m feeling low I should go for a walk – well, going for a walk when I feel rubbish is pretty much the last thing I want to do – why would I want to take all the negative rubbish with me? And, admittedly, there are times when I simply don’t want to do things that I know could boost my mood.
But that seems to have changed for me. I seem to have somewhere along the line missed the ‘aha’ moment where I decided that I was done beating myself up about everything. Quite often I look back at the past few years and one of things that irritates me the most is all the times I’ve hidden myself away at home, or in my room, wishing that I could be up and out doing things – ‘participating.’ And actually – and maybe annoyingly – if I find myself in the middle of locking myself away from things, in a rubbish mood, I’m aware that maybe hiding away isn’t the best thing for me – that I should do something to distract myself, something productive that will make me feel a sense of achievement, or even something that will make my day a little more meaningful. I’m very good at being hard on myself, but I’m learning to try and do things to improve my mood, and for me one of those ‘things’ is to get up and get out of my room. Even if it’s little, small ‘things’, such as going for a leisurely stroll to the shops at the end of my road.
Going for a walk doesn’t ‘cure’ anything for me – it doesn’t make all my past experiences dissolve as soon as I see a tree, or a crow, or some pretty flowers, but it does get me moving. It makes me more aware of what’s going on around me, rather than focusing on the same, repetitive things in my mind, it’s almost as if (as cheesy as this sounds) it reawakens my senses/my awareness. It – in a way – reminds me that there really is other stuff going on rather than just the thoughts and emotions that are trying to drag me down. And it gives me something to do. I can either walk for ten minutes and decide, yeah that’s enough, I’ve re-awoken my senses enough now, now where is my bed, or I can find myself walking for quite some time, sometimes thinking things through and getting my thoughts in line, and sometimes I really enjoy just going out and exploring places. And sometimes it just uses some of the excess energy that I’ve built up, that if I was sitting at home I’d probably use to try and tear myself down.
I’ve not divorced my duvet just yet, and there are certainly times when I’d rather stay at home, but I have to acknowledge whether staying at home is an act of self-care, or if going for a walk will be more positive and productive for me. Getting up and getting out of the house when I’m not having the greatest of days, or going for a walk after a difficult psychology session really helps me to readjust my mind a little. It helps me focus on something other than my negative thoughts – not to say they disappear – but it’s hard to ignore a muddy dog that’s running full pelt at you, or a goose that won’t move out of your way.