From meditation to energy healing, there are countless ways to take care of your mental health in a pinch. But if you're looking for something that combines convenience, simplicity, and scientific approval, look no further than simply taking a walk outside. In fact, for Patricia Thompson, PhD, an entrepreneur and a psychologist, it's her go-to strategy for dealing with stress, rejection, or emotional overload in general.
"I was recently told I wasn't a fit for an opportunity I had been looking forward to for months," she admitted. "After getting my balance back from that punch-to-the-gut feeling, I laced up my running shoes, put on my headphones, went to a nearby park, and took a walk. Twenty minutes later, I came back feeling clearheaded and inspired with new ideas about what to do next."
Not only is taking a walk a simple yet effective way of dealing with mental stress, but it also combines the scientific benefits of exercise and spending time outside. What's more, how you walk is just as important as the walking itself. "In one research study, a sample of undergraduate students who were physically manipulated…to walk with a 'depressed' style (slumped shoulders) recalled more emotionally negative words than a group who walked with a 'happy' style (upright and bouncy gait)," Thompson explains. "How you walk can potentially affect the sorts of things you remember, and in turn, the researchers would suspect, your mood."
To further amplify the benefits of walking, she recommends walking outside in nature (as opposed to on a treadmill) and focusing on mindfulness while you do it. "As I walked, instead of thinking about how much I disagreed with the feedback I had received or how initially bummed I had been, I made an effort to stay in the present," she explains. "I focused on the scenery around me, the music I was listening to, the feeling of my body as I walked, and made an effort to breathe deeply." One study even suggests that this so-called "mindful walking" can decrease psychological stress and improve the overall quality of life.
Michalak J, Rohde K, Troje NF. How We Walk Affects What We Remember: Gait Modifications through Biofeedback Change Negative Affective Memory Bias. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2015;46:121-125. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2014.09.004
Teut M, Roesner EJ, Ortiz M, et al. Mindful Walking in Psychologically Distressed Individuals: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2013;2013:1-7. doi:10.1155/2013/489856