If you’re an adult of a certain age in the UK you will remember a programme called Come Outside, which had a lady going on adventures in an aeroplane with her dog Pippin (not an animation, a real woman, plane and dog!). It was prime viewing if you were off school sick. You may be wondering why I bring this up but I’ve realised something lately: being outside is good for my mental health and so I should of taken Auntie Mabel’s advice a long time ago and gone outside.
There are a number of reasons I found going outside difficult. Sometimes even my own back garden felt off limits. My anxiety around being in public places was the worst part. I found going out alone difficult and things got gradually worse until I couldn’t use public transport (my only means of transport at the time) or be alone outside the house apart from attending my medical appointments and even then I needed music to cope. The idea of going for a walk was horrifying. At one point agoraphobia was added to my diagnosis.
The thing is, with some changes that have enabled me to get outside more often, I have realised that being outside actually aids my mental health. I’m very lucky to live in a house with a back garden. Although at times it has been hard to get into it, I’m glad I managed to work through it to get out there. I now hate it when it rains as it doesn’t feel pleasant going into the garden and I can’t sit out there. I’m no gardener but I do find mowing the grass therapeutic. I put my music on and enjoy seeing the finished lawn with its lines (is it even a lawn if it doesn’t have lines?).
So what got me into the garden? The answer: Guinea Pigs. I got myself two Guinea Pigs. And due to my mum’s stance that she wasn’t having them in the house they lived in the garden (in the shed or garage in the winter). This meant I had to go outside every day to them. At first it was really tough. I’m not the greatest with dirt and it was an adjustment to dealing with it every day. But I loved my boys so much that the challenges were fighting through.
The problem was though that they didn’t get me away from home on my own. This was something that got harder and harder. Things went even further back when my Guinea Pigs passed away. Going outside got harder again. Then I started slowly in the summer trying to sit and read out in the garden. This slowly got easier, especially without the dirt aspect and having my cats sit with me helped. But again I wasn’t really leaving home alone apart from attending medical appointments and I had started to go to a group at my local Mind which had been recommended by my psychiatrist. Public transport was a definite no and walking alone was also something I didn’t feel I could do.
The biggest change for me came with another new addition to the family: a puppy. Suddenly I had a little thing that needed me to go out. To begin with it was a case of going out with someone else to walk him, but this was still progress, I was out walking. As he got older I felt more confident taking him out on my own. I didn’t feel alone as he was with me and he’d shown he was protective of me. He made my confidence grow. We also took him to puppy school. Again, to begin with, I couldn’t go on my own. It was hard coping with new people but he was my focus in the classes so that helped.
Now I walk him regularly on my own and enjoy it instead of constantly being anxious. Don’t get me wrong I still get anxious at times going out with him. Also in puppy school I now take him inside alone (my dad waits outside). I’ve also started doing some voluntary work which involves going into new situations on my own regularly. Without my puppy I couldn’t of done it. Without going outside I couldn’t of done it. Not everything is perfect. I still can’t use public transport or go to busy places alone but I’m making progress.
So what are the benefits of going outside? There are many benefits to mental health as well as physical health. These include:
- Stress relief
- Increased concenteation
- Better short term memory
- Restored mental energy
- Sharper thinking and creativity
Getting outside makes me feel more able to deal with things and to even escape my thoughts for a while.
So even if it’s just sitting outside for 5 minutes or standing in your doorway, getting outside can help. Take slow steps to get there. Don’t over do it. And don’t punish yourself if you can’t do it straight away. For more information on going outside check out these links on the Mind website which detail different aspects on getting outside.