The modern world is stressful, well that’s what everyone will tell you. Report after report states that our mental health is suffering, our ability to make (and take) decisions is disappearing and that risk is something that we can’t accept. I think you find that life has been stressful since the dawn of time. If you didn’t hunt successfully, you and your family starved, harsh winters killed the weak, and tribes fought hand-to-hand combat over land, property and resources. That sounds a heck of a lot more stressful than a late train, flat phone battery or failing central heating…
In my view, what has changed is perception and taking responsibility for your actions. I know that I’ve written about this before, but a recent report regarding the treatment of mental health using the outdoors has driven me to write again. As an Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion, I cannot advocate strongly enough the benefits of getting into the outdoors and enjoying the natural world. Never have we spent so much time indoors, shielded from the wind and rain, sun and sky, when it’s exactly what we should be experiencing. School, work and home are, for many, shelters in which to hide from the elements. We wrap ourselves in cotton wool and air conditioning, rather than feeling the wind in our faces. We get stressed about the simplest things, demand more, yet are willing to give less. People blow up at the slightest things, when they should just accept whatever happens, smile and get on with their life.
As a boy, I enjoyed many happy hours in my parents garden (usually pinching peas, raspberries or blackcurrants..!) Time and love were abundant. Food was seasonal, fresh and fairly grown. My mum and dad adored gardening and grew rows of fresh veg every year. To this day, I still enjoy gardening, and still help in my parents garden, although it’s usually mowing or trimming now. Physical work allows a release of any stress or bad feelings that my day may have created.
As a family, we began hill walking, which is where my love of the mountains was born. Exploring new horizons, meeting new people and occasionally getting lost were all adventures we shared. To this day, I still explore, meet and lose myself, and happily so. If i feel down I get out and release my tension within the beauty of nature. If i need to mill something over, a good walk allows me the mental space to think clearly.
One of the most defining experiences of my teenage years was doing outdoor pursuits at school. OP was mandatory, wet, muddy, scary, cold and downright good fun. Hundreds, if not thousands of youngsters went potholing, canoeing, climbing and sailing to give things a try. We usually came away with clothes that would make any washing machine sick, cuts and bruises and huge smiles. We had many a tale to tell of great adventures and learned so much. I never remember seeing anyone depressed, although we were scared senseless at times..! Clipping onto an aerial runway for the first time was really stressful for me, but flying down the cable was hilarious fun. Fears are overcome and confidence is built.
As a teenager, I got a job in the Electricity Industry and dug holes in roads, laid cables and worked with live electricity. The physical labor’s brought little in the way of stress, except on me physically, and I went home tried every day, but fit and happy. I was paired up with a Cable Jointer called Bernard, a tough character who taught me more about work and life than any teacher. One day I was struggling to break through some tarmac and said “It’s hard this Bernard”. His reply was simple – “Be hard with it..!” That phrase has resonated throughout my mind ever since. When things are hard, be harder. When we feel down or stressed, you need to face whatever it is and you need to win. Now that’s easy to type and at times hard to achieve, but I’ve had my hard times, and by facing the problems square in the face, I’ve dealt with a great deal.
School never closed for snow, we just put our wellies on. This bred a society of people who do, rather than people who complain. It seems now that the slightest flake of snow, and schools close by the drove. I didn’t think much of this until I spoke with a local businessman. He runs a factory, with many youngsters working there. They couldn’t understand that when it snowed, he didn’t close the factory and send them home. They had been conditioned to think that snow days were a normal part of life, and their faces reflected the fact. In my world of Electrical Engineering, heavy snow is when we all go into work.
You may have noticed that many of my experiences happened when I was young, and I’ve found this vital. Experiencing the outdoors, life challenges and hard work as a child, will mould your future. I don’t mean we should still send children up chimneys, but we need to exercise ourselves both physically and mentally, to make ourselves able to understand and deal with everything that life throws at us. Stress and depression can be reduced and the burden on society relieved, by work. If I get stressed, I find my woodpile soon stocks up as I burn the mental energy through labour.
What do I see now..? Gardens are smaller and less used, fewer people got outside and (from what I see in industry), many youngsters don’t want physical work. One prime example is watching young apprentices when they’re handed a shovel. You’d think they had a heart attack. “I can use that, I want a digger..!’ is a phrase which I’ve heard time and time again, before they get back on their smartphones. Herein lies a huge problem, as much depression is attributed to the lack of social skills and the perception that everyone else is having a better time than you. Social Networking is full of it. Everyone seems to be on holiday, laughing or out with friends. This is particularly destructive when you’re already down. Put the phone down and sit in the woods for a while. The sounds of nature will relax you and clear your mind. Every year since I suffered Frostbite, I’ve sat in the woods that I played in as a child and emptied my mind. I clear out the voices which tells me how rubbish I am, or what I’ve done wrong and sit in blissful peace. Wind rustles through the trees and the scent of spring flowers fills the air. It cleanses my soul for weeks, costs nothing and allows me to empty my soul and reflect. I don’t need a course to tell me what to do, or how to behave…
I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve sat and cried in the outdoors, the silence, fresh air and nature free my spirit and I go home much more contented.
As the nights draw in and Autumns grasp takes hold, people struggle with the lack of sunlight. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be triggered by lack of sunlight and the fact that colder days keep folk inside. What more of a reason do we need to get outside to improve our health than that..?
Society is fascinated with statistics. You only have to watch a sports programme, or a political debate and all folk are considering are the numbers. What ever happened to the people..? Are we truly machines, or living, breathing souls. I don’t need a spreadsheet to tell me whenever I feel down or depressed…
You might think that I’m having a moan based on the fact that ‘when I was a lad, I had it rough’, but I didn’t. I had, what I had, as did so may others. Life was different, and it will always evolve, but nature remains.
These are my views, and I appreciate people will disagree with me, even call me foolhardy, but if we don’t experience and learn when we’re young, flexible and have open eyes, when will we..? Without the learning we can’t make decisions as we get older, and stress will creep in. Depression follows and the downhill spiral begins from there.
All we need is a little common sense, but sadly, common sense, isn’t all that common…