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Mental Health Awareness Week 10th-16th of May 2021

Robin Spivey, MYPAS School Counsellor (Midlothian School Counselling Team) shares his thoughts on walking in nature and how this helps his health and wellbeing, especially on difficult days.

I started walking every day a few years ago when my first son was born as often it was the only way that he could settle to sleep.  As we live next door to a huge park, within a few minutes I can be surrounded by wildlife.   At first I would put on my headphones and use this as an opportunity to listen to audiobooks and podcasts.

However, I realised one day, as I was being indecisive about what to listen to, that actually what I needed was space.  So I unplugged my headphones and put my phone away.   I looked around me and felt a strange sense of stillness.  I heard the sound of birds and of the wind rustling in the tress.  I noticed smells and felt myself breathing in and out.  I realised how I had been busily rushing around from one task to another, worrying about whether or not I was good enough, about how people perceived me, about how I was going to live up to all of my responsibilities.  These anxieties had made feel that I needed to take in more information but I realised what I actually needed was to take a step back.  I felt a warm fuzzy feeling and felt I was reconnecting to something; being present in the moment.  I breathed in and out again…

…and then I felt the urge to look at my phone. There was a new story I was following.  I wondered if there had been any updates in the past five minutes.  I took my phone out of my pocket. Just to check very quickly.  I refreshed the screen. There were no updates.  ‘While I have my phone, why don’t I check Facebook?’ my brain quickly decided. I refreshed.  No updates. I looked at myself. What was I doing?

I challenged myself to put my phone away for the whole walk.  I am not sure I managed it for the first few walks but gradually I came to enjoy the stillness, to enjoy my own thoughts and to also spend time with those thoughts that made me uncomfortable.   Now this is something I look forward to, especially if I am stressed or anxious.  This is time I put aside each day to stop, slow down and be present; to get in touch with the things that are really worrying me and the things I need.  

Check out the Mental Health Foundation’s top tips on connecting with nature: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week/tips