On Monday, after posting the previous blog post, I went for a very long walk on the outskirts of Heverlee, I saw a surprising few amount of people, and discovered new, grass-covered and bush-surrounded roads. I was gone for two hours, and the only thing I used my phone for was Spotify-ing my new favourite artist of the week, Ellie Ingram. And while my head was thinking for a long time, I think it also gave me some solutions.
There’s a very nice calmness these days to going for walks outside. Either the sky is so full of clouds that it’s grey and a bit cold, and therefore there’s few people outside to avoid, or it’s sunny and warm (and windy), but everyone’s found their rhythm in when to go out and there’s still somehow less people to evade. As long as you stick to the outside of Leuven, and don’t worry so much about where the road you’re on is headed, but more about the journey itself.
I’ve always had a thing for walks, finding them stress-releasing if nothing else, and a pure, simple pleasure at best. Last summer, I would go on mental health walks late at night with a friend. And while it was simply meant to get a bit of physical activity after a lazy day of lounging in the sun, or spending a bit of time together and getting social contact during the resit-phase, it turned out to be the best times of the summer for us; our friendship grew and we now consider each other close confidants. It was very empty at that time of the day, so we could walk whatever way we wanted and not worry about having to change direction or go another way because of some event, or someone joining our team. The walking helped the thinking process, the fresh air gave new energy and hope. The laughter we shared was proof of how well it did us to walk outside for an hour every other day.
And even though in this lock-down walks are more associated with a necessary evil, a suggested-but-kind-of-mandatory activity to keep up spirits and health (we hope!), they can still be so, so rewarding. If you give it some time, if you let it take you instead of taking the destination too seriously, and if you don’t expect it to fix all of your problems.
Going for a walk can be exhausting. If you put it on your to-do list like a chore, you will never do it with as much pleasure as when you decide to go for it on a whim, looking at the sun shining outside and infusing life into the flowers. Sometimes, I think it has to be a chore, especially in the beginning of making it a habit, just because it will otherwise not be something we stick to. We have a bad habit of being lazy, as collective humans, and even (or especially?) when things are good for us. It’s normal, don’t beat yourself up. Just be better to yourself in the future, if you can.
But if you find yourself walking outside, and you are at a point where you don’t have to continuously check around you like a delinquent for people who could get too close to you – a point where you’re comfortable and for some reason the sounds around you or coming from your headphones take over, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy being outside for the simply act of being. Outside. At peace with yourself. When was the last time you let yourself go like that? It’s scary, I know. And even though I praise and preach it, up until last Monday on that walk, by accident, I can’t even tell you when I last let it happen. But I can tell you – it’s the greatest feeling of freedom.
And within that moment, you can really find answers. It’s not that you need to ponder and worry about issues, fretting to puzzle together an answer for yourself, but if you find a moment of comfort within yourself, to just allow yourself to be in the moment, your brain will do the solving for you. You’ll come out of it with a clarity you can’t recall to have found, and you’ll know the answers to questions you weren’t even aware you were asking yourself. More importantly, chances are high you’ll find a calmness about you that puts you at ease with the situation. Your personal situation right now, the general situation right now, anything you are struggling with. You won’t even have to work hard to find or achieve it, you’ll just have to listen to the calm around you, and breathe.
And hey, if this doesn’t work for you, there’s always yoga. 15 minutes of yoga every other day can really relax you and calm down your HPA-axis, which is in charge of constant stress and anxiety levels. Whichever method you prefer though, walking in nature, doing yoga, or any other kind of activity that allows you to fully relax and detach from the reality we’re facing right now: remember to do it every once in a while.
These are dramatic times, and they call for dramatic measures. They also allow, or even call for, dramatic self-care measures. Staying safe and healthy isn’t about putting on a smile and keeping busy and assuring people you’re fine. Staying safe and healthy right now, is allowing yourself to feel what you’re feeling, acknowledging these feelings, and trying to get them to turn to a positive. Take a big step back from caring for others and ask yourself: and how would I want someone to care for me?
Then do it. Do it today, do it tomorrow. Take care of yourself, and feel as good as you can in these dramatic times.