There are days when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? You feel totally uninspired, blah, and you can’t seem to conjure up any motivation or enthusiasm about the future. The days ahead seem like a slog, and you wonder what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. It’s particularly bad if I can’t even look forward to the weekend, when I’m supposed to be enjoying my life and spending time with my family.
These feelings are often temporary for me. I know that if I just sit with the feeling, eventually I will feel better. Perhaps later that evening, or the next day. Often, within a few days. But sometimes the feeling persists and I know that I have to do something to get myself out of the funk. But what?
The advice experts offer on how to beat the blues, or mild depression, involves getting enough sleep, getting adequate exercise, proper nutrition, time with friends and quiet time spent in nature. Time spent outside has many health benefits besides offering invigorating exercise—you get a dose of vitamin D, which most people don’t seem to get enough of these days, a condition that has been linked to depression.
Time spent in nature isn’t just good for curing the blues. It has been shown to improve creativity and some cognitive function, according to a study undertaken by the University of Utah and the University of Kansas psychology departments. This study was performed with subjects who had been hiking in the wilderness for four days, and it’s unclear whether the benefits stem from an immersion in nature or from the removal of technology (phones, computers, cars, sirens, alarms).
The soft focus, or what researches call “soft fascination” on the natural world (as experienced through hiking) is soothing, and brings us back to a kind of default state of mind where introspection, creativity and clearer cognitive functioning occur. It can be a kind of “reset” button to our state of mind, especially if we feel overwhelmed, stressed, or stuck in negative thinking.
This study also validates my belief that the last thing I, or anyone else for that matter, should be doing when we’re not feeling all that great is to sit around surfing the internet or watching TV.
Excuses Keep Us Stuck
When I’m feeling down, I’m really not in the mood to do the very things I should do, which is to socialize or get outside to exercise or hike. More likely I will sit at home by myself, moping, napping, reading, or surfing the internet. Depression inertia is difficult to overcome.
What excuses do you use that are keeping you stuck at home and feeling down? That it’s too cold outside? That it’s too far to drive to go hiking, and you don’t feel like sitting in the car? That you’re too tired? Don’t want to go alone and have no one to go with?
Yeah, those are all excuses I’ve used, too. But here’s the thing. When I do kick myself in the butt and actually get out there on the trail, I feel so much better afterward. I’m so glad I went, even if it’s cold, wet, snowy, whatever. In fact, some of the best hikes I’ve had have been in inclement weather or uncomfortable conditions, simply because the intensity of the experience adds to the feeling of aliveness and adventure.
3 Tips for Getting Un-Stuck and Relieving the Blues
Consider doing these three things the next time you’re feeling a bit depressed and you know you should get outside, spend time in nature, and invigorate yourself with exercise and fresh air.
1. Prepare the equipment you’ll need the night before, or at a moment when you’re feeling a little more motivated. Take out your daypack, fill up your water bottle, and set this next to your hiking boots by your front door. Simply the act of getting ready for the hike, even if you’re not going until the next day, will increase the likelihood you’ll actually go.
2. Put your hike on your to-do list or calendar for the day. Set the alarm to go off and remind you. Tell yourself that you intend to go, and set a specific time that you’ll leave the house or the office. The more specific you are about when you will be going and where, the harder it will be to blow it off. Make arrangements to get to work a little later or to leave earlier if you have to. Your mental health is important! I doubt anyone has ever invented anything or produced anything of value when they’re depressed.
3. Tell someone you plan on going on a hike. Perhaps they’ll want to join you, and that will offer you more social time with a friend, or alleviate your worry about going alone. Whenever I have a goal in mind, I make it a point to announce that goal and intention to as many people as possible. (The bigger the goal, the more people I tell.) The theory behind this is that the pain of NOT doing something you’ve committed to verbally with others is greater than procrastination and lack of inertia.
By following these tips, you’ll also be creating a set routine and setting a goal, which are two suggestions off the WebMD site for fighting depression.
There have been times when I’ve felt so lost and down that I’ve prescribed “a hike a day” for myself, even a short one as close as possible to my house. What I’ve found is that after three days of this kind of imposed routine, I begin to feel much better. I have insights while out there looking at the trees and mountains. I begin to feel like a part of the world, not like the world is on my shoulders. The exercise alone is like throwing open the windows in a stale house in the spring.
I’m willing to bet that you’ll feel much better after a nice hike, and you’ll think clearer and maybe even get some new ideas for how to live in a way that makes you feel alive and purposeful.