Simple pleasures, simple activities and simple thinking can be the key to unlocking mental calm. Or an alternate title: How walking the dog is good for my brain.
Yesterday was bleak, grey and rainy. I’ve been busy with a tight work deadline. I stayed up too late painting and watching Netflix. When I got up this morning, just in time for Dan to arrive home from his night shift and then pack Mr L off to school, it was still grey and dingy. I was lethargic, grumpy and really did not feel like taking the dog for a walk.
But by the time the immediate morning jobs were done, a glimpse out the window at clear sunlight filtering through the trees made me decide to force a change. I love the fall of the light and fresh feel of early morning walks on Winter’s days. I love the effect of sunlight through the rain and dew drops like millions of jewels. I love the smell of clean air, damp earth and eucalyptus. Also, the threat of an under-stimulated Labradoodle nagging me all day is a genuine one.
A walk gets the blood moving and is good for your health and fresh air and nature is the ultimate tonic. If I wanted to give up anything today, why would it be my walk? Right there are a bunch of my favourite things! Just to add to it, I also took my camera. It slows the pace, it causes me to look at the world a bit differently - you seek out colours, light, vignettes, points of interest. Rather than power-walking whilst just watching my feet as is necessary on rough terrain, I find it helps me pay more attention to (and indeed literally focus on) the sights, sounds and smells around me. Just watch how a dog does it. I highly doubt Millie is worrying about where her next snack is coming from when she's out walking, it's all about the sights, sounds and smells of the moment.
An excellent technique to “change your state” and/or calm anxiety is called “Grounding”, and our walk this morning was a perfect exercise in this.
“Changing your state” is breaking out of a mood or pattern of thought. This could be any kind of feeling or thought pattern that you want to derail. Grounding can be especially effective for anxious or agitated feelings though (and can even be employed during a panic attack), as symptoms of anxiety often include insecurity, restlessness, being disconnected from yourself or your surroundings, trouble concentrating, and looping thoughts, which is what grounding techniques are directly designed to address.
Grounding is designed to bring your restless mind out of its loop and back to the present. It is supposed to make you become aware of your immediate surroundings and become mindful and present of what is happening right here and now. Anxiety can be a torrid whirlwind of looping thoughts, that usually has very little to do with the actual moment, time and place you are standing. By mindfully bringing your attention to the present you can regain a sense of “grounding” and connection outside of your thought loops.
This just one of many different grounding techniques.
5 Senses or 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique
How to Do it:
See. Find 5 things you can see and say them out loud
Blue sky, red rocks, tall gum trees, spiky bushes, excessively hairy dog.
Feel. Find 4 things you can feel and say them out loud
Thick hiking socks, warm alpaca wool beanie, leathery gum leaves, excessive fluff on hairy dog.
Hear. Find 3 things you can hear and say them out loud
Crunching of footsteps on gravel, wind shaking water droplets from trees, birds.
Smell. Find 2 things you can smell and say them out loud
Damp earth, eucalyptus.
Taste. Find 1 thing you can taste and say them out loud
Toothpaste left from earlier brushing
After running through all of these (and really concentrating) your mind can be brought back to the present and you can become much brighter and calmer. It’s also nice to consider what positives you may be grateful for.
I am glad I am out walking in the sun, feeling healthy and energetic, taking photos with my dog and the birds on a calm, clear Tuesday morning when so many others do not have this opportunity. I’ve also had a genius idea for a new painting and have a bunch of fresh new reference photos.
I’m lucky to be here, but you can find a moment of calm whoever you are. Grounding can be a calm spot in your mind on the busiest peak hour train commute or even when your mind is racing wildly when you’re in bed trying to sleep.
I hope you find your calm somewhere today.
If you want to check out some more grounding techniques, pop over to https://www.livingwell.org.au/well-being/mental-health/grounding-exercises/