How Getting Outside In The Fresh Air Can Aid Your Mental Health

Going for walks is one of my favourite things in life. I just love being out in the open, breathing in the fresh air, admiring my natural surroundings and getting to clear my head. I find that getting myself out in the open air, even when I don't want to, has a massive impact on my mental health.
On the days when I'm feeling low or having a particularly bad day with eating disorder recovery, I try to get out somehow, even if that's just for a walk to the supermarket, because being in a confined space like my home isn't healthy for my mind, it intensifies my feelings of being trapped and isolated, whereas being outside allows my mind to breathe and gives me thinking space. Being outside allows me to think with more clarity and, if there's a specific problem troubling me, focus on what I'm going to do and how to resolve the situation without distraction or input from anyone else. But, if I do want distractions, outside is a perfect place to get them, whether that's other people living their lives or the stillness of a lake or the sweet sound of birds chirping. I also find that being out in the fresh air makes me feel, not just mentally better, but physically better. It's as though I can actually feel the weight of all my worries lifted from me and my whole body feels lighter.

Going out into the open is actually scientifically proven to benefit your mental health, as getting fresh air means more oxygen, and breathing in more oxygen means an increase in the amount of serotonin (the happy hormone) you inhale, consequently making you happier. Pretty cool, right? This oxygen also clears out your lungs and helps remove toxins from your body, as well as improving your digestive system, heart rate and blood pressure.
People who live in green areas have been found to have lower rates of depression and anxiety. I read about a study that was carried out in the Netherlands of 350,000 people, and the study found that for people living in an area with 90% green space within two miles of their home, the incidence of anxiety disorders was 18% per 1,000 people, compared with 26% for those with an area of just 10% green space. Of course, we can’t help where we live for the most part, but it goes to show that getting yourself out in the open can have a drastic impact on your mood and mental state.

If there's something sitting heavy on your mind right now and you're in need of an escape, I recommend taking yourself out for a walk, because I promise it will help. You can go out with friends or family, have deep conversations about your troubles or just lark around and take photos, or you can go alone and just spend time with yourself, something I find people don't do enough of nowadays what with the hustle and bustle of everyone's daily grinds.
Staying at home is just as good for the soul, of course, lighting a scented candle, watching your favourite romantic comedy and stuffing your face with sweet things can be just as soothing when you're struggling, however, that tends to be the easy option and the one we always turn to. Next time, try something different and see how it benefits you. Stick on a coat, throw your hair back and put on an outfit that makes you feel cosy and safe, and take yourself on a walking date. I sometimes like the still and quiet of my natural surroundings and just being in a moment without any pressure to please anyone or continue a conversation, other times, I like to stick my headphones in and power walk along to my favourite songs which, at the moment, tends to be anything by Lizzo, as her music means I always come home feeling rejuvenated and with a new zest for life.

It sounds so simple, going out for a walk to clear your head, but when, in 2020, the standard reaction to a traumatic experience is to tweet about it, I think going out for walks is something it’s important we don't forget the value of. There's no obligation to be anyone when you're out for a walk, you don't have to fit in with anyone or conform, and you don't need to put up a facade, you can just go to your favourite open space and let yourself feel however you want, which can be so freeing.

I know that, personally, walking in the open air helps me a lot when the voices of my eating disorder gremlins are being really annoying and aggressive, as it allows me to switch off from the pressure of everyday life and just exist in a place where my body isn't the most important thing and my negative thoughts about myself aren't controlling what I'm doing. Of course, that isn’t what I always want to do, sometimes, I just want to wallow in self pity in the comfort of my duvet, and having the balance between the two is healthy, but staying cooped up for extended periods of time isn’t going to have any positive outcome. 

So, the next time your find yourself struggling to breathe and you're in need of a break, get out of your house, lock your door and go on an adventure, it needn't be anywhere exciting, it also doesn't cost anything to go walking, and there are no expectations so you can't get it wrong. Set yourself a time limit, or don't, and just enjoy the feeling of the wind on your face and the sound of the Earth crunching beneath your feet. I know that, today, there's a lot of pressure to be constantly grinding and being busy, but your mental state should always be a priority and taking time for yourself can be just as productive as anything else.

Love, Emily

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