Today is Darkness into Light Day 2021. Given the day that’s in it, I wanted to write a piece about walking for mental health.
We braved the elements this morning to do the Darkness into Light walk. Getting up in the wee small hours is tough. It’s even tougher when you can hear the rain pounding on the windows outside.
Darkness Into Light Walk
Some perseverance, many layers of clothes and a bowl of coco pops later and we were ready to go. We walked westwards along the canal to start. The plan being to then turn and walk back towards the sunrise. So we set off with the wind howling and the rain pelting at our backs. It was quite apt to be honest. In these horrible conditions, it was much easier to walk towards the darkness. When we turned and faced towards the light, it was really tough going trying to walk into the teeth of the wind and rain. Again, quite aptly, I was glad of the loved one beside me so that we could do the journey together.
We eventually got through it and home. Rain jackets, waterproofs, hats and gloves simply abandoned in the hall as we got in.
Mental Health is a Year Round Issue
As I began the process of trying to warm up, I tried to think of what to include in this post about my wet and wintry morning. I settled on outlining some of the benefits of walking for mental health. A piece to try to encourage people to walk and exercise more.
Even as I start to write though, two things strike me straight away. The first is that it seems wrong that Darkness into Light Day is our lightning rod for thinking about and discussing mental health. What a better world we would be in if mental health awareness was a year round thing (or if our government would adequately fund organisations like Pieta House so they wouldn’t need these fundraiser events. But that’s another story).
The second point is how trite and condescending this post might appear. If a person is suffering from a mental health issue, I’m sure hearing someone say “Go for a walk” is very frustrating and annoying. So that’s not the point I’m hoping to make. If you are suffering with mental health issues, ask for help from the appropriate people. They can help with the big issues. This post is just about the small benefits to their wellbeing that people can get from walking for mental health.
Ok. So let’s start with the facts. Walking or any type of exercise will improve your physical health. If you are healthy physically, it’s one less thing to worry about mentally. Plus, an improvement in physical fitness can help with other mental health concerns caused by issues with body image.
Helps With Sleep
Here’s the thing though, if you are getting out and about and regularly walking, your body needs recovery time. Your body recovers through rest and sleep. So if you are walking regularly, then you should be sleeping better at night.
Often going to bed can be a difficult time. The lights are off. There are no more distractions to occupy yourself. It’s just you alone with your thoughts in a dark room. That can be scary and difficult not to think about whatever might be causing anxiety or concern. If it’s a tiny bit easier to get to sleep at night because you have been out for a long walk earlier in the day, well I think that’s a good thing.
A Time to Reflect
Looking at things from the completely opposite end of things. You sometimes can’t ignore these thoughts forever. If you do need time to reflect, it’s better to do so while outside in nature and the fresh air. The wonders of nature might help put a better perspective on things.
And nature is wonderful. Sometimes it can help to take a moment just to take your surroundings in. The roar of the sea as waves crash against the beach. The trickle of water in a gentle stream. The wind rustling through the trees. The birdsong in the distance. Sometimes it’s just the fabulous complete silence. The stillness of a heron standing on the canal bank. Just soak in the views. Take a moment to breathe it all in. The beauty, the power and the strength of the world around us.
And the great thing about walking is that it is inexpensive and it’s available to everyone. Walk as much as you can. Try to do the same again tomorrow. Start a good habit.
We have all seen the growth in the number of people out walking during the pandemic. I think this is a really good thing. People are seeing the need and the benefits of getting a walk in during the day. This site has loads of good options for walks. From adventurous walks in the wild of the Wicklow Mountains to easy suburban strolls through the War Memorial Gardens. Another great resource is the Sport Ireland website which allows you to search on a county by county basis. So finding a nice walk should be the least of your worries.
Of course, walking can be social as well. The great thing about it is that it is usually one-on-one or in small groups. So your voice can be heard. If you do need to talk to a friend about something that is on your mind, then walking is a good place to do it.
Help is Available
Most importantly, if you need more help, that’s ok. It’s ok to not be ok. There is help there for you.