There are times when thinking over a problem or formulating a plan while you’re walking works well and other times when you get stuck in overthinking, going over and over the same thoughts without getting anywhere. That’s when applying mindfulness while you’re in the great outdoors, whether you’re in a crowded city or a quiet forest, can calm your whirring mind, reduce your stress and open your eyes to the world around you.
In this episode we look at:
Podcast episode 8 Calm your mind and open your eyes with a mindful walk
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m here to share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.
Welcome to episode 8 and in today’s episode we’re going to look at how you can calm your overthinking mind as well as get more enjoyment from being outdoors by taking a mindful walk.
You don’t have to be anywhere special to make a walk mindful. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the heart of a crowded city, on a quiet suburban street or in the depths of the countryside, you can make any walk into a mindful one. There’s no set amount of time needed either, even a few minutes is enough to lower your stress and increase the benefit you feel from being outdoors.
The important point is where you choose to focus your attention while you’re walking. Sometimes we want to use this time to think over an issue at work or make plans for later. But there are other times when we get stuck going over and over the same thoughts without getting anywhere and that isn’t helpful. It’s at times like these when applying mindfulness to your walk can be really beneficial – improving your mood, helping you to get some perspective and see the bigger picture, reducing how stressed you feel and giving you the chance to enjoy your life as it is in this moment.
In a mindful walk you pay attention to what’s going on around you, what you can see, hear, smell and touch right there and then. It pulls your focus out of your head, where you’re stuck in your overthinking, and into the reality of your experience right now. You’re not ruminating on a conversation you had or an email you received or a meeting in the future or any of the things on your to do list. You’re in the present, experiencing this moment just as it is now.
Being mindful as you walk isn’t just an exercise to help with overthinking. It opens your eyes to the interesting, beautiful, quirky world we live in and Spring is as good a time as any to do it because there’s so much activity in the natural world. Not that you need to be surrounded by nature or in a green space, you can take a mindful walk when you’re on a busy road with noise and bustle all around you. We can miss so much if we don’t look around us. As Ferris Bueller says, ‘Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ And who are we to argue with Ferris.
We’ll go through exactly how to take a mindful walk in a moment. First I wanted to say that as you do this you’ll notice that your mind keeps wandering off back into your thoughts, and it might feel difficult to keep your attention on what’s around you, rather than what’s happening in your head. For years and years I lived in my head, I’d get from A to B and have virtually no recollection of the journey because I spent the whole time in my head thinking. Some of it was useful, but an awful lot of it wasn’t.
When I first started practising mindfulness as I walked I found it so hard to keep my mind on what I was looking at or what I could hear. It constantly wanted to zip back to my thoughts and as it did my eyes would drift down to the ground in front of me. It felt like a Herculean effort to drag my eyes up off the ground to look at the trees, the houses, other people, a cat – whatever I could see.
The good news is that it gets easier with practice, like most things. And it really is worth the effort. As I spent more time in the world around me instead of lost in my own little world, I could almost hear my brain sighing with relief that it could bring the whirring down a few notches and take a breather.
Okay, so, let’s take a mindful walk together.
First of all, notice how your body feels, how the clothes feel on your skin, the wind, sun or rain on your face. Notice how your feet hit the ground with each step, is your weight evenly spread across your feet? Is there more pressure on the outer or inner edges of your feet? What about your upper body, are your shoulders hunched? Are your arms swinging loosely by your sides or your hands in your pockets? You don’t need to judge what you’re noticing about your body or try to change it, you’re simply observing what you can feel in your body as you walk.
Now widen your attention to take in your surroundings. What can you see around you? Perhaps there are shops, office buildings, street furniture, trees, bushes, flowers, people, dogs or vehicles? A useful way to keep your focus on what you’re looking at rather than being dragged back into your head, is to name silently to yourself what’s around you – the colours, shop names, shapes, numbers, makes of car. There’s no need to form an opinion or judge what you see, just notice what’s going on around you.
Look around you so that you can take in as much of the scene as possible. What do you notice when you look up at the sky, the clouds and the tops of buildings? What can you see at ground level – perhaps cracks in the pavement, puddles or a flower bed?
If you have time, find something that interests you and stop for a moment to take a closer look. Let’s take an office building for example. What kind of façade does it have – glass windows, revolving doors, colourful signage? What is the building made from? Perhaps there’s a mix of brick, steel, glass, concrete, maybe it’s plastered and painted. Is it immediately apparent what organisation inhabits the building, can you see a logo or name plaque? How does the building fit into its surroundings, its style, size, colour, use? What else can you see?
Or perhaps you’re in a green space like a park. Choose a tree to focus your attention on. Can you identify what type of tree it is? How tall is it, could you wrap your arms around the trunk if you tried? Is it in flower or bare? What kind of texture does the trunk have, is it rough or smooth? What colours are the trunk, branches, leaves and any blooms? What can you see through the spaces in-between the leaves and branches? Are there signs of birds or insects living in the tree? What else can you notice?
Let’s continue walking and move on to your other senses. What you can you hear? If there are lots of sounds try to single out each one individually and where it’s coming from. Can you detect any particular aromas where you’re walking?
As you walk you can move through your senses, noticing what you can feel, see, hear and smell. Saying it silently to yourself helps keep your attention on the reality of what’s going on around you and your experience of it right now, rather than getting lost in overthinking. Your mind will wander, as I mentioned earlier, and that’s okay, it’ll get easier with practice.
As you apply mindfulness when you’re out walking more and more, the time you spend taking in your surroundings will get longer and the frequency with which your mind darts off will reduce. It will still happen, though, and that’s fine. Noticing each time you’ve wandered off to your thoughts, and bringing your attention back to what’s happening around you is part of the practice. Don’t get annoyed with yourself, you’re not doing anything wrong. It doesn’t matter how many times your mind drifts, you notice, and you bring it back.
I’d love to hear how you get on with taking a mindful walk, what you notice on a familiar route that you’ve missed in the past and how it soothes your whirring mind. You can take me and this episode along with you for a walk any time you like.
Thank you for joining me for Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers. You can find the show notes and other episodes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast along with information on how to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and Stitcher.
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You can also find lots more to empower you to overthink and worry less and enjoy your life more, including the Nook of Inspiration free resource library and the range of online courses, at gabrielletreanor.com.
And if you’re on Instagram come say hi to me, I’m @gabrielletreanor.
Thanks again for listening, until next time, lovely people.
Throughout this website and my work when I refer to women I include people identifying as women.
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