• Sarah

How Walking Can Help Mental Health

Updated: Jul 3




Walking For Mental Health

We all know the importance of walking for our physical health but did you know that it can also play an important role in helping your mental health too.


We put a lot of effort into caring for ourselves if we have a physical illness or injury on the outside but we tend to neglect what is happening, mentally, on the inside and we need to change this trend. You can not pour from an empty bottle or drive on an empty tank.


You would not let your mobile phone run out of charge so we must do that same and take care to recharge ourselves regularly to avoid a meltdown.


First of all, let us establish what a meltdown is. A meltdown is not the same as a tantrum. A meltdown is where stresses build up inside to an unmanageable level and eventually, simply, explode out. There is no control and once released no way to stop. The eruption needs to burn itself out.


We need to avoid getting to that point and walking for mental health can help.



Fizzy Pop Metaphor

Think of yourself as a fizzy bottle of pop. All-day we have stresses that build up inside us. For each of these stresses shake that bottle (your body) a little bit.


Thoughts we can’t filter and over analyse. Expectations on us as adults. People asking us to do things, at work, at home - SHAKE the bottle a little bit more. Our internal to-do lists. Emotions, and physical feelings - SHAKE that bottle a little bit more.


Generally, we can all manage these shakes and settle ourselves again between each shake. Sometimes however the rests between shakes don’t happen or are not long enough to settle that bottle. Someone may ask you to do something or say something that is the equivalent of unscrewing that lid just a little way.


What happens if you unscrew the lid of a shaken carbonated liquid? A jet of fizz explodes out the sides. We might shout or swear or act a little unlike ourselves for a moment, but again in many instances, we can recognise matters are becoming unmanageable and we are able to get that lid quickly tightened to stop the fizz.


What happens though if we do not recognise the situation escalating? What happens if we are overwhelmed by the stress in our lives which effectively unscrews and removes the lid of the shaken bottle? You know what happens, an uncontrollable onslaught of fizz, froth and mess; that is a meltdown.



The Day I Walked Away

I am going to now open up about my own meltdown that occurred recently, as I feel it is important to recognise when things don’t work out and by clearing up the resulting mess we can learn to manage ourselves differently in the future. I recommend wherever possible, you get help with clearing up the mess. Either from trained professionals or family and friends. This is going to get really personal. I hope that you stay with me.


It was a Tuesday, I would like to say an ordinary Tuesday, but then we can have a whole discussion on what is ordinary. Was it ordinary that I was living at University Hospital of Wales while my autistic youngest teen underwent his 5th cycle of chemotherapy? For the last three years (the time that Ryan has been seriously ill) I have had many shakes to my bottle. For the last 15 years, I have many more shakes of that bottle as I have advocated for his autism and now his cancer journey.


That Tuesday was ordinary so far as our lives currently were. Chemotherapy cycles had become a routine. Being a split family and living away from home was now part of our family dynamics as we managed as best we can with the current situation.


That Tuesday morning, several shakes of that bottle occurred in quick succession. I recognised this and in order to let that bottle settle, I, at first, just need a timeout. I went for a walk. As I have talked about previously. I have always walked and hiked. All my life it has been a pastime and relaxation hobby.


The difference that day was that once I started walking the further I got away from the hospital, from the situation, from my life, the harder it became to turn around and go back. I didn't want to go back. I didn’t want to face it anymore. I didn’t want to deal with and manage and cope anymore. The longer I walked and was away the more I became scared of how angry and judgmental everyone was going to be if I did go back so it was easier to not go back. I switched my phone off and I walked. I genuinely thought at the time that things would simply be able to get better if I was not part of the problem.



Mapping Our Emotions

As the evening drew on I began to realise the practicalities of my current predicament. I had no coat, no belongings, I did have my purse and phone, but could not face talking to anyone, as I felt that everyone would be angry with me. I needed someone who was not part of the situation, someone who would not judge me. I needed someone to help me start to clear up that exploded mess.


Fortunately, I had someone. A friend that did not judge me. A friend that was able to cope with shaking her own bottle a little in order to help me. A friend that got me back to that hospital. Once there the professionals arrived to also help with clearing up the effects of my exploded bottle. My bottle (body) had shaken and exploded so impressively that it was in fact empty. I was completely done. I had nothing left. I had a breakdown.


Now I am going to switch analogies to a car to help explain the after-effects of this breakdown. This is how I was able to describe myself with help from the therapist the day after my meltdown. Humans put a lot of effort into managing our lives and there are three categories we generally find ourselves in to guide us safely through our lives.


We can be in DRIVE mode. We are focused, know our route, what we plan to achieve, we are actively heading for that chosen destination.


We could be in PARKED mode. Not heading for any particular destination, just happy to sit and enjoy the view. Content with our current point on the map. This is also known as the Soothing System


Or we could be in SPORTS mode (Threat System). We are anxious, we need to be somewhere urgently, or perceived a threat of needing to get away from somewhere quickly. We gun that accelerator without due care and attention, with no concern for fuel economy or wear and tear on the vehicle (our body).



Compassion Focused Therapy.

Think of our body now as a car engine. It needs to be serviced, kept finely tuned. It needs fuel to run and security features to keep it safe. Imagine what happens to your car if you allow the fuel to run low.


If you run on fumes, the engine starts to shudder, the car doesn’t work as efficiently as it could and should. That is the same for your body. If you allow that engine to run completely empty the car will cease to run and will come to a juddering halt. If you are lucky you can refuel and be on your way, but you run the risk of seriously damaging the engine. It could seize.


Simply refilling the tank will no longer make the car run. The engine is now damaged and needs some repair work. The same goes for your body. Simply stopping to recharge is no longer going to be enough. Your body now needs to repair as well.


Everyone kept telling me to care for myself, make time for me, that I was running on fumes. I know this but what if you are on a long country back road with no service stations or fuel stops. What if you couldn't afford to refill the tank. I took a chance to get to the next stop, but I did not make it. The day of my meltdown, the day I walked I way, resulted in me forced to be towed (professional help) to a garage (therapy) to allow the repair (healing) process to begin. I thought I had to be strong for everyone else. I am the matriarch of the family. Strong people don't ask for help. How wrong I was.


It has been a few months since that day and I have received valuable help from the professionals. The car is functioning once again, but perhaps not quite as smoothly as it once was. The car isn’t quite the same as the one I had before. I have re-positioned that proverbial happy face mask that had slipped a bit from my outward persona that I allow the world to see. The car looks clean and shiny, just don’t look under the hood/bonnet.



It is okay to take time out.

The day that I walked away, I needed a full escape. Everyone and everything had become too overwhelming. I didn't care about anyone or anything that day, not even myself. As I said I have always used walking as therapy and even that day it was my way of dealing with the situation. It is from this day that I decided to use my knowledge of hiking and the outdoors to create Adventure Accessories and my Adventure Wild bog, to help others to reconnect with nature safely and respectfully, to help your own mental health, before you reach crisis/meltdown mode.


Hiking is a part of my regular servicing that I now appreciate the value is a must to keep on running/driving this circuit of life.


Bellybutton Panda

You can read more about my son's autism and cancer journey on my personal blog called There's A Panda In My Bellybutton. Join our winding and bumpy trip down Lymphoma Road, stopping at Autism Central.




Over to You...

What do you think to my analogies of pop bottles and car engines? Do they help to explain the complexities of mental health? Do you have a better analogy? Join the discussion by commenting below and let us know how you manage your mental health and find us on social media as @AdventureAccess using hashtag #AdventureWild.



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© 2020 by Sarah Skilton, AdventureAccessories.co.uk