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Getting out in nature to heal

If you follow me on instagram, you may have seen that the past two weekends, I have been off adventuring in my camper van with my husband Timm. And it has been joyous!

After a tough year, with surgery in Feb and a difficult recovery that ran straight into lockdown, I have felt incredible closed in. I had been to the supermarket and walked my dog in the park, but had barely been anywhere else since January. So when it was allowed to camp overnight, we headed straight out.

VW campervan in the Peak District

We have a 1968 VW campervan that we bought last year and I love it so much. For years, we had a caravan and used to camp every year with our kids and friends. But as the kids have got older, they are less thrilled about the idea of camping with us for a week! We have always wanted a VW Campervan and so last year, we treated ourselves and made the leap! We also bought a large bell tent style awning tent that attached to the van and is lovely and cosy, so if the kids do want to come with us, they still have that option. (Seriously, it has a log burner in it!!!)

Sam and Timm Cleasby, man, woman and Chihuahua sat on a log at Padley Gorge

So we have been out the past two weekends, exploring, setting off with only a vague idea of where we would head. Or a final destination with a random route. I have learnt to read a map! Something that I have never really taken much notice of because of Sat Navs and maps on your phone. But the thing with these things is that it gives you the fastest route to a place, not necessarily the most interesting.

For example, last weekend, we headed to the coast. But I navigated via a road map, this meant that I found interesting places along the way and we stopped off at a medieval village that I never knew even existed.

Man and woman in front of a brick building that has the sign saying wharram on it at wharram Percy medieval village

Getting out in the camper is just heaven to me. Just changing your scenery, especially after months of lockdown, is wonderful. I know, but sometimes forget, how much being out in nature positively effects me. Even if that is just a walk in my local park, the green, the fresh air, the exercise, it changes my mood almost instantly.

Mind have the following information about how being in nature can benefit you.

“Spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. For example, doing things like growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals can have lots of positive effects. It can:

man and woman wild swimming

Spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems including anxiety and depression. For example, research into ecotherapy (a type of formal treatment which involves doing activities outside in nature) has shown it can help with mild to moderate depression. This might be due to combining regular physical activity and social contact with being outside in nature.

Being outside in natural light can also be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of year. And people tell us that getting into nature has helped them with many other types of mental health problems.”

beach view at Cayton Bay Scarborough at sunset

Of course, it is easy for me to say this when I am feeling emotionally and mentally healthy. But for some people there can be many barriers to getting out. It could be that you are feeling low and unmotivated. I remember at my lowest that the thought of just getting out of bed was too much, let alone heading out into nature for a walk. My GP was wonderful and offered so much support, he actually “prescribed” me to get out of the house every day. He said even if I could just get outside my house and sit in the fresh air for 10 minutes, it would be beneficial. He told me to try and walk, with my phone off and my head up; to look around me and appreciate my surroundings. This way of pushing me really helped. I felt like it was a prescribed part of getting better. I would take my anti depressant, go to my talking therapy and get outside every day, even when I really didn’t want to.

It can also be tough if you have physical barriers, if you struggle with fatigue or pain. Or if you physically struggle to get out alone. Unfortunately a lot of places are still inaccessible to wheelchair users or people with mobility issues. I found this website, The Outdoor Guide, that has a list of wheelchair friendly walks around Britain. If there is nothing on here near you, you could ask friends or family for their suggestions or on social media or your local disability groups.

Man and woman smiling to camera

Some people struggle with socialising with others or they feel isolated and don’t have anyone to go out with. If you don’t do well in groups or crowds, perhaps you can find somewhere quiet in your local park. Just sitting under a tree or finding a less used space. And if you are looking for someone to get out and walk with, check out your local council to see if there are any groups near you that could offer support and connect you with others.

Obviously I am incredibly lucky to have the money to have a campervan and be able to get out and about in it. But financial constraints can be a barrier. Whether it is the money or the time if you are busy working. For me, even just sitting in my garden, or on my doorstep and taking a little time for myself to get away from computers and technology and breathe, helps so much. Look for the free spaces in your local area where you can get to quickly and for free.

Beach at Cayton Bay Scarborough

I just can’t explain how much good it has done me to get out. I was feeling like I had not made good progress since my last surgery. I was so poorly and my kidneys started to fail, I couldn’t eat or drink and was on TPN through a PICC line. I lost a lot of weight and muscle tone. My leg muscles pretty much faded away. I am still in a lot of pain and tire very quickly, so I choose options that are low impact and short bursts.

A few weeks ago, I stood on Burbage Edge, it was a few minutes walk from the carpark. But as I walked over the uneven ground, I remembered being unable to walk even a few metres to the toilet. I was looking at the ground as I walked and could almost see the hospital lino that I had struggled to walk across just a few months ago. It made me cry. I wept but not in sadness, they were tears of gratitude, of strength, of surprise in realising how far I have come.

Woman in grey hoodie stood in countryside smiling

Last week, I stood in the Peak District and I looked out across the most beautiful view, and despite my pain, despite the two corsets I was wearing and the slightly fuzzy head from painkillers, I felt like a queen. I felt like a champion. I felt strong and happy, my heart felt full and I couldn’t stop smiling.

I know it can be incredibly tough, and know that I don’t believe getting out in nature is some sort of magic cure. But for me it has helped so much and maybe it could help you too?

Peace and love

Sam xx