By. Danielle Husband
Anxiety and depression can weigh me down, making it hard for me to do even the things I love most. As the days stretch on with the darkness mounting, it feels like more and more weight is being placed on me, making it harder to shift out of the gloom. While I was struggling with a particularly bad bout of anxiety and depression, I discovered that taking several walks throughout the day can calm my mind and improve my mood.
Walking is a great way to center yourself, clear your mind, boost your mood, and increase your activity level. Taking it outside adds even more benefits by allowing you to connect with nature, especially when you choose to listen to the sounds around you rather than your favorite tunes.
Through my daily walks, I’ve been able to calm my mind and reduce my anxiety. Although I’m spending more time out walking, my days are more productive and my attitude stays positive. While I do try to stay mindful on many of my walks, I don’t call them walking meditations. I just do my best to stay present in the moment.
Want to get the benefits for yourself? Try these five easy steps for starting your own walking habit:
Start your day with a 5 to 10 minute stroll. When I say “start your day,” I mean literally get out of bed, relieve yourself in the bathroom, and then head outdoors. I usually change into workout pants, but I’ll often just slip into a pair of flipflops that I’ve left by the door. This walk isn’t about exercise; it’s your chance to energize your day and begin the day with a clear, calm mind.
While you may worry that you don’t have time, you’d be surprised how smoothly the rest of your morning will go. I’ve found that I’m more productive and accomplish my routine more efficiently when I start my day with a short stroll. Even on days when I wake up feeling groggy and unrested, I always feel restored and ready for my day after I’ve gone on a short walk.
Take several short walks throughout your day to ground yourself and boost your mood. You don’t need to go on a long walk to get benefits. In fact, going on several short walks can bring benefits that one walk doesn’t because they allow you more chances throughout the day to regain your focus and boost your mood. This can help you say goodbye to mid-morning blues, your after-lunch slump, and the post-workday crash. If you ever find yourself bemoaning the fact that you never have time to do the things that make you happy because you’re always too tired after work, short walks could be the answer.
While going on several walks does require some flexibility, you’d be surprised how easy it is to fit them in once you start. It’s even easier than finding a big block of time to do one long walk, though those are great as well. Here are some tips for finding walk time:
- Use your break to take a walk.
- Go on a walk at lunch. (Remember, you only need 5 to 15 minutes.)
- Walk your dog (or a friend’s).
- Take your family on an after-dinner stroll.
- Go for a walk before you head to your car after work.
- Take your walk after work before you go into your home.
- Stop at a greenspace while you’re running errands and enjoy a quick stroll.
Go on one long walk most days, as well. Although your short walks can add up to a lot of activity, taking a long walk most days can improve your health both physically and mentally. Try to find a nice location that allows you to enjoy the outdoors, whether it’s in your neighborhood or in a nearby park. On weekends, you could venture further to city gardens or perhaps a wooded area. Not only will it keep your walks interesting, you’ll have the chance to explore different terrain and gain a new experience.
Sometimes I listen to music on my longer walks, but going without music allows me to really ground myself. Even after my walk, I still feel rooted in the present moment. Noticing the sights around your neighborhood or greenspace, the sounds of the outdoors, the taste on the air, the smell of nature, and the feel of the air can leave a lasting impression on my psyche that lingers long after my walk ends.
Don’t overthink your walk — clothing, shoes, and special gear are not required. You don’t need the perfect workout clothes or walking shoes to take a short walk. Don’t waste time and stress yourself out by making too big of a deal about how and when you take your walk. Just go with the flow. If you’re wearing work clothes, you may take a slower, shorter walk. If you have time to lace up your walking shoes and go for a long, brisk walk, then do that.
In the past, I’ve wasted time or skipped a walk because I felt like I didn’t have time, would get too sweaty, or wasn’t wearing the right clothes. Now I’ve realized that walking can just be part of my day, no matter where I am, what I’m wearing, or what’s next in my day. It’s very freeing.
Be mindful on your walks. Root yourself in the moment by focusing on your senses, noticing what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling in that moment. Breathe deeply and focus on the present, not on your to-do list, what happened during the day, or what’s weighing on your mind. When thoughts or feelings interrupt, acknowledge them and let them pass.
I’ve found that being in the moment during my walks unravels many of my concerns without me dwelling on them. For example, I’ll realize as I’m walking back to my front door that something I thought was a big concern has an easy solution, or I’ll start to feel that my to-do list doesn’t seem as hard as I thought it was.
Today, try it out for yourself. Start with a short stroll and build from there. Give yourself permission to test it out and see how you can get the benefits of walking in your life. Happy trails!