I prescribed myself a mental health hike today. It was spontaneous. I woke up at 5am, lay there for a while thinking about what I actually needed to do today and what could wait. I decided my mental health would benefit from a strenuous, solo bush walk.
I’ve been waking up at night anxious. I worry whether this gamble’s going to pay off – taking months out of paid work to finish Brain on Nature podcast.
So I did one of my new favourite things. I got up early, crept around the house so as not to wake the kids, boiled some eggs, packed some water and headed to the train station. I felt self-conscious in my track pants and trainers amongst the commuters on their way to work. I reminded myself that this was valid. I’ve been working hard for months. And anyway, fending off anxiety and depression is important work.
When I get off the train at Heathcote, south of Sydney, a group of older hikers ask if I’m with them. No, I say, but we’re probably heading for the same Karloo Pool. As I walk away a woman calls out – would you like to join our Sutherland walking group? I thank her but explain I have lots of friends into bush walking, and young kids, so going alone is a special treat. She laughs and waves me off.
I haven’t treated myself to a solo hike since last year. I savour every moment. I let my mind wander as I clamber along the rocky outcrops with views out over the Royal National Park. When my brain starts working too hard and I feel myself not being present to my surroundings, I pull myself back by honing in on the wildflowers out for spring. Sometimes it’s a bird call or a frog that brings me back into the bush.
I can feel my mood lifting and my worries turning into more constructive problem solving. I climb up from Karloo Pool and make my way through the heath in the hot sun towards Uloola Falls. Being out here alone on this plateau, with views across the park to a tiny-looking Sydney on the horizon, lifts me up out of my funk. As my thoughts try to pull me back down I keep getting stunned by different coloured wildflowers greeting me at every turn.
I’m back on the train by 2pm. I turn my phone on to find an email that would normally stress me out. Instead I feel calm and measured and take my time to respond. It’s been the most constructive use of a day in a while.