The moment I stepped into the woods the tint of green light, and the swishy sound the leaves made, overtook my senses. A sense of calm surrounded me - there were no cars whizzing by, no people chattering away, no litter tumbling across the ground, no concrete rough and hard under my feet - instead there was the beautiful bird song, the strong smell of the wild garlic growing in patches on the edge of the path, jewel coloured flowers waving their dopey heads about with joy, and the soft dirt track cushioning my steps. This was life, this was the serene undertow of the day-to-day "stuff" that causes us stress and worry and anxiety, this was truth.
I remember when I was younger, and still living in Australia, my family and I would trek 8 hours up north, almost (but not quite) to the NSW/Queensland border, to my Aunty June's farm. We would spend up to 2 weeks out in the middle of nowhere, the closest town being over an hour away, and the closest neighbours house about a 10 minute drive ..... not that you ever really saw the neighbours. You could walk for miles and not see anyone, but you would see kangaroos, rabbits, kookaburras, snakes, cows, and bees (amongst other interesting and possibly poisonous creatures). You would see the wide blue sky and the crinkled dry grass, the olive green leaves of the eucalypts and the citrine pompoms of Wattle - and the beauty of it (and the incessant wildness) would make your heart beat furiously. And by the end of the visit, all of that fresh air and fresh food and the best of living, your skin would be glowing, your eyes bright and clear, and your stresses and anxieties melted away into the tranquility (or perhaps I mean expanse) of nature.
We do live in a world that is highly technological, we are able to access information 24/7, there is very little time to feel that we can switch off, and FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out) is rampant, especially in younger people. It has been proven that this type of living (including living in cities and highly urbanised areas) is a cause of high rates of depression and anxiety, as the stresses to keep on going, to do more and more and more, and be more and more and more, start to take their toll. But exactly what kind of long term impact can this be having on us? Especially young people?
When you think about the impact that highly technological living .... and its certain human/technology love-child FOMO, has on us, you have to consider the concept of "Loneliness in Crowds." In living in a city, we are become so overwhelmed by the frenetic pace and the options available to us, as well as the wide variety of people we meet every day, that the ability to build long lasting, firm, and sure relationships dwindle. The thing is, we have the power, within ourselves, to change this, and it is easier then you think.
By simple engagement with the world around us (and in particular nature) we can alter our brain chemistry, So I have three challenges for you over the coming weeks - to see if you can alter some of that brain chemistry, and shift your moods and motivations, and develop some focus, as well as lightness in life.
1. Get outside at least once a day! Whether it is a lovely, sunny, warm day, and you can go for a walk, or it's a cold, windy, rainy, day, and the best you can do is step into your backyard and splash in a puddle for 5 minutes, just do it! Feel the breeze on your face and the sun on your skin (or the rain on your skin, if it is raining!). Breathe in the fresh air, and listen to the birds or the swishing leaves, notice the colour of the sky and the ground, feel the ground beneath your feet (either with or preferably without shoes). Just make the effort to get out of the four walls of your house/workplace/school.
2. Whilst outside - or anytime you get a chance - touch the plants and trees that surround you .... I know it can seem a bit woo-woo and hippyish, but hug a tree (I hug trees .... and am not ashamed to admit that LOL), caress a leaf, tickle your nose with a flower. Embers yourself in nature whenever you get the chance, it connects you to all that is living and will increase the wellbeing you get from being outside.
3. Record your nature adventures for yourself (and others!)! Whenever I am out for a walk in nature I take photos ..... not a lot of photos, but I do take some. It reminds me of the walk, it takes me back to that moment when I look at the photos, and when I share the beauty that I have seen it encourages others to get out and walk and bond with nature (just like the photo's above - all ones I have taken on my walks). Just be really careful to not overdo the photo taking though - the point of you being out in nature is that you are present and in the moment - only take a photo of something that really inspires you, and be imaginative with it! (If you do take some photos in nature share them on instagram or twitter to show me and the world what part of nature is inspiring you right now - use the hashtag - #Lizzieandilovesnature)
I walk multiple times a week, and to be out in nature has really helped me deal with, not only my anxieties, but also my grief, and my stresses. Nature really is the best medicine.
A word that pretty much every human being, let alone teen or child dreads.
The concept of failure is responsible for a lot of "stuff" in our lives: stress, anxiety, depression, fear, perfectionism, self recrimination, humiliation, sadness. Failure can stifle us, make us paralysed, make us not even try .... that new thing or exciting thing, that difficult thing or scary thing, that thing we really want to do, but the fear of failing and being humiliated means we will never try. The thought of failure leads to disappointed dreams and hopes, and yet we don't question this fear or the potential failure. In fact, we tend to assume that failure is inevitable, that even if we try, then the odds are stacked against us .... but are they really?
According to the University of Scranton, only 8% of people achieve their New Years goals .... now that seems like a really small number - but instead of thinking that 92% of people that set New Years goals are "failures" and "lazy" and "uncommitted", let's actually think about why people fail their New Years goals. Firstly, they set too lofty a goal and/or timescale to achieve said goal, secondly, they don't put a plan in place or assemble a support group, and thirdly, they give up to easily, usually besieged with self doubt over their ability to achieve.
No wonder we think failure is inevitable and the inspiration muse is off helping other, more "worthy" people with their goals.
But .... what if we weren't afraid of failure? What if children and young people (YOU) could see that through failure you can become the best you ever? That through failure you can learn the lessons of not what to do, so you can step forward in confidence, knowing that you are now one step closer to achieving your goals.
As a young person, when you are going to school, or college, or uni, it seems that the entire fate of your future is in the exams and tests that you have to pass .... and not only pass, but come out the other end with flying colours. No wonder we had children as young as 6 exhibiting stress behaviours, quaking in their boots as they stepped up to exam paper. The pressure to be perfect, to not fail, is so overwhelming; it is our responsibility to remove these pressures, and in fact teach our young people how to fail with grace, elegance, and ability to learn from mistakes and brush off the disappointment like it was glitter on their shoulder. Let's learn to love the "F" word.
So youngsters, here's some advice on how to reach your goal and deal with failure:
1. Have a plan - but a plan that is flexible, flexibility is crucial here. If you are finding you're not great at exams (to be honest I never tested well), do your best, but focus on assessments and extra credit assignments. If you realise you are not going to get the marks you need for uni, remember, be flexible, go and get some life experience for a few years and then go to uni as a mature age student. Being flexible means there are always options and failure won't have the impact it otherwise could.
2. Get support - build a team around you, but be selective in that team. Make sure you surround yourself with people who will not criticise you for failure, but will support you and help you learn the lessons and move on (remember: dust that disappointment glitter off).
3. Step back and think - when failure hits us it can be hard, so don't make any immediate decisions about the moment and/or your future. Instead, step back for an hour, a day, a week, or even a month, and let the dust settle. You will be clearer headed and able to see the lessons in the failure, and then ultimately make the right decision for you, to move ahead.
Most importantly, remember that to fail is to be human, we all have failure in our lives, the difference between successful people and non-successful people is how the successful people deal and work with failure.
We have all been there - you enter a room, sweat is beading on your forehead (and gathering in your pits ..... those underarm sweat stains are not fun), your brain is so scattered you can barely focus on putting one foot in front of the other, and your heart is beating so erratically ... you wonder if you should run and hide, or pretend your gall bladder has just burst. This scenario could be happening anywhere, it could be as you enter an exam room, the sports field, at the shops, in an interview, it is anywhere where you feel that stress response and you can't control your physiological reactions, let alone that little voice in the back of your head that throws negative insults your way.
It is awful.
But like I said, we have all been there, I have been there, even our parents, teachers, and boss's have been there. Recognising this will hopefully help you when you are in the midst of your own stress response, but also, hopefully, it will help you help other's when you see them in the midst of a stress response. Empathy is the key, and when you remember how awful it is to feel stressed you can take the steps to help your friends deal and, at the same time, feel great about yourself! (Okay, I am not being cheeky with selfish aspect here - it is proven that helping others can help yourself by reducing your own stress levels).
So what can you do when you recognise that your friend/s may be stressed and not coping so well with life at the moment?
1. Be open-minded: Sometimes what a friend is finding stressful is something that doesn't worry you at all, so be open to the very real fact that anxiety and stress is caused by different things. Listen to your friend, don't belittle or joke about how they are feeling, because what they are feeling is very real to them.
2. Distract them: Know any good jokes? Or funny stories? Have a movie you want to go see? Or do you have time to pop some music on and dance in the kitchen? (a particular favourite of mine!). Sometimes, all you need to do to help ease a friend's stressful moment, is to distract them, break the pattern that is causing the stress. Are you about to head into a very important exam, tell your friend a joke, pull a face, and make them laugh like there's no tomorrow - it helps! Trust me!
3. Get into Nature: Taking a walk in the woods, or even sitting at the park, or beach, can be a huge help when someone is feeling stressed. So suggest that you go for a walk with your friend, organise a day out to the beach, or have an adventure across the countryside. Nature heals, it has been proven that nature lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, and contributes to your emotional and physical wellbeing.
So let me know if you try any of these tips out, and what things you have found worked for, not just your own stress, but your friend's as well.
p.s. My programme I have co-founded with 2 amazing lady's, RWS| Resilience Wellbeing Success, works with primary aged pupils to give them the skills to deal with stressful situations (such as SATS exams!!), if you know of a school that would benefit, please put them in touch!