Walking Away from Stress and Anxiety

I am a lazy person. My ideal way of spending an afternoon, a whole day is ensconced on a couch, wrapped in a blanket binge-watching Netflix or reading a book. Preferably both at the same time. Something that for the first time I was encouraged to do. After a week I’ve had enough. I was stressed out, depressed, sore, and gaining weight.

My world shrunk

As it turns out none of this should’ve surprised me. Studies have shown the many negative effects bed rest has on our bodies and mind. One such study conducted back in 1994 found that people who were confined to bed reset showed a tendency to develop depression and neuroses. Similar negative results were identified in studies of women treated with pregnancy bed-rest.

There is zero evidence that lying around all day is beneficial, although we all dream of it.

I wasn’t confined to the couch or bed yet I experienced mood swings, depressed thoughts, and the lack of purpose. The problem for my stress and anxiety was that overnight my world shrunk to our home. We used to travel, hike, though I didn’t miss that one, visit museums in the city, do all sorts of extracurricular activities. We were never home and when we were, I’d be busy planning our next adventure or recapping our last for our family travel blog. All this was eliminated and 24 hours a day I was at home with the rest of the family. Something we have never experienced before.

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Taking the first step

The only thing we were allowed to do was go out for a walk or go stir crazy at home. My husband was the one who had suggested it. Despite the negative impact, I was willing to give the couch and Netflix another go. At that time, I believed that the whole situation would be over in two weeks and I’d never get an opportunity like that again. Boy was I wrong and happy I gave in to the walks. The first thing I’ve discovered when I stepped outside and away from our flat is how beautiful our neighbourhood is. We were always so busy discovering the world we hardly knew what was right in front of us.

It wasn’t just that. We had moved here a year ago after months of searching for a bigger apartment. I keep thinking about how worse our lives could’ve been if we hadn’t. Not worse but definitely more stressful because there wouldn’t be room for all four us to work and study in peace.

Today we live on the outskirts of Ljubljana, where there are a few tall skyscrapers and buildings clustered in the middle of the fields and meadows. It takes me ten minutes of brisk walking to reach the banks of the wild river Sava with the snow-capped mountains in the background.

For two months that walk to the river and following different paths around it brought me peace and eased my worries, better than any show on TV or a book.

When I was surrounded by Nature that was just starting to bloom, I couldn’t remember what the problem was. Everything seemed normal.

Walk it off

It helped that I no longer took my phone to these walks. I admit that at first, I accepted my husband’s idea because I was gaining weight and thought I’d walk the excess off. Years ago, I’ve learned that I eat when I am stressed and nervous. Arriving home from a stressful day at work I used to put a spoon of chocolate spread in my mouth before I took off my shoes. It turns out I am not special as Harvard Medical School states that stress, the hormones it unleashes, and the effects of high-fat, sugary “comfort foods” push people toward overeating.

That knowledge didn’t help. I did the same this time with more vigour because it was the only way to convince myself everything is alright. I’ve got it under control. Since I was in tights for days on end and even on the best of days, I avoid the scale, I didn’t immediately figure out I was getting bigger. Thus I’ve carried my phone with me to be able to check the progress I was making. To know how far I’ve walked, how fast and how many calories I’ve burnt.

That was always the most depressing part. The realisation that if I had one cookie after I got back the effects of an hour of walking would disappear. It puts things in perspective. I started eating healthier and fewer cookies, I wanted my work out to mean something.

Soon though it wasn’t just about losing weight, I started noticing other benefits, especially the ability to clear my mind. Without the phone, I could fully enjoy it. Nothing was tying me down, no time restraints, no calls, no news, updates, emails, nothing.  It was a chance to get away.

For a while husband and I encouraged our kids to join us, thinking this would be a great way to spend more quality time as if we weren’t spending every second of our waking day together. We tried but their constant whining and complaining were enough of a deterrent. We changed our minds.

Maybe walking can offer us a much-needed time apart, for us to recharge our batteries separately.

A walk to remember

Gradually the walk became our favourite time of day. Sometimes the two of us would talk, discuss the current events, work, kids, whatever. But I preferred when there was amicable silence between us. The times when we’d walk side by side saying nothing. It would be a chance for me to process and think.

I am a writer and more often than not I find myself stuck. A sentence doesn’t work, a whole paragraph, sometimes a story has holes. On these walks, I would move my feet, stare at the green grass in front of me, and in my mind bounce around the question that sitting down at a desk I couldn’t find an answer to. Out there in the fields, it just popped up seemingly out of nowhere. Einstein apparently did the same, he walked on the beach when he needed to solve a problem. There is scientific proof that this works.

Researches at Stanford University conducted four experiments in 2014 that demonstrated that walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after. That was my favourite reason for walking by far.

Now as the lockdown eases and things gradually return to normal, I believe this is the activity to keep. It’s too good to walk away from it. 

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