It’s hard to know where to start but I’m hoping to find some catharsis in writing about dealing with anxiety, also that if someone reads this that is going through something similar that they can either relate or perhaps find it useful.
Outdoors Wellness With Ben Reeve
I got to the point a few years ago that I realised anxiety, for me at least, was never going to be “cured” and would be something I’d have to manage. I actually found that really helpful, every time I thought my anxiety problems had been dealt with, they’d inevitably come back at some point and I’d be searching for reasons in a mind already in turmoil trying to deal with getting out of bed after a night of broken sleep.
Coming to terms with it being something I had to learn how to manage every day meant I was never surprised by the next panic attack or paranoia, and I found that very liberating.
Spotting the Signs
I know now how to spot the really early signs and rather than dismiss them or indulge the negative thoughts which would inevitably lead to a heightened state of anxiety, I’ve learnt a few techniques that really help. Distractions, physical exercise (eek!), finding something uplifting and doing something useful are all part of my “care package”. Oh, and talking; having someone you can trust to tell how you’re feeling, even if it feels daft in your head, is a really good coping technique.
A couple of years ago in the run up until Christmas, I was having a really hard time with anxiety. Every waking thought I had was tarnished with catastrophizing and then not knowing how to keep clinging on to the worst case scenario. I believed every horrible thought was either real or about to come true; for example I work in I.T. and it’s a highly unpleasant feeling thinking your company’s IT infrastructure has been hacked and that I’m going to get sacked at any moment, it made just getting up and facing work almost impossible but money worries just about kept me motivated to go through the normal morning ablutions.
Birds Fighting Destructive thoughts
That was a really, really tough time but one of the things I’ll always remember is seeing a Redwing (a small thrush that migrates to the UK in the winter from Siberia / Scandinavia) sitting on a bush with a red berry in its mouth. It was on my way to a small local nature reserve where I volunteer once a month, I had to force myself to go rather than sit in my safe home, it had been snowing and my car tries to bury me in a hedge when there’s snow on the road, not a nice thought when I’m seeing the world as a huge dark scary place! The walk from the car park to the reserve is only about 15 minutes but it’s lined with bushes and trees either side,
I often see plenty of Long-tailed Tits (a personal favourite of mine), various finches, Blackbirds, Robins, House Sparrows (another treat) along with corvids and gulls overhead. That morning, it was cold, my mood was foul but in that moment I saw this beautiful Redwing with its prize I found it a bit uplifting though I can’t really say why.
Maybe because I wasn’t expecting to see one so it was a nice surprise and a brief respite from my circle of destructive thoughts, maybe because the winter thrushes partially make up for the warblers that have gone to Africa, maybe it was just sharing a moment with such an amazing bird. It’s hard to say but it took the edge off my morning a bit and once I started coppicing willow and chatting to the other volunteers I started feeling better.
By the time I got home I felt like I had been given the opportunity to reset, by no one means was I “cured”, however I saw the early signs of actually being able to get through the next few days. Largely thanks to going for a walk, seeing a bird and chopping down some willow scrub. For that reason Redwing will always have a special place in my heart, I always get a lift when I see them overhead in the winter hearing their “tseep” calls, especially my first Redwing of the winter.
I do a lot of volunteering and I’m very grateful to have it in my life. I volunteer for the local Wildlife Trust at a work party on the first Sunday of every month, I do the same at the above mentioned reserve on the second Sunday of every month, every Monday I do a lap of a nature reserve so I can report any problems and send bird species lists to the head office and on the same Monday I help out at a dog rehoming shelter. In between that, I volunteer for the BTO doing mainly admin work but also a couple of bird surveys every year, it’s a nice change in pace.
All of the above gives me focus, it’s rewarding feeling helpful, it gets me outside, I’m in touch with nature which I love, it gives me a bit of restitution for the sometimes helpless feeling when I hear terrible stories about animals and it helps keep my anxiety at bay. It doesn’t always work, it won’t work for everyone and it’s part of a larger picture of taking care of my mental wellbeing but without my love of nature I really don’t think I would have got through the last few years.
Outdoors Wellness With Ben Reeve in summary
I’m trying to think of a summary, perhaps a pithy but uplifting final statement for anyone reading this to take away with them but I’m not articulate enough. All I can say is, if you’re struggling with your mental wellbeing and if you have even a passing interest in nature, try going for a walk and seeing how many birds you notice, the colour of the trees and take in a big breath of fresh air.
Talk to those closest to you and perhaps, when you’re feeling a strong enough, sign up to volunteer somewhere that you have a passion for. You may only need to find something to knock the rough edges off your condition and sometimes that’s all we can hope for, but if you can do that make sure you thank yourself because it’s bloody tough.
Author Ben Reeve
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