Whether it’s a trip to the spa, a ticket to the latest blockbuster at the movie theater or sweating it out at the gym — our go-to modes of de-stressing and clearing our minds have been tabled over the past year.
And no demographic has been spared the mental health effects of the pandemic. “This has been a traumatic and difficult time for everyone, regardless of age, around the world,” said Dr. Jennifer Dragonette, Executive Director at Newport Institute. "Studies have indicated that young adults in particular have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with experts seeing dramatic increases in anxiety and depression rates."
“During the pandemic ... there has definitely been an increase in mental stress,” Laurasia Mattingly, a meditation and mindfulness teacher said. “My students now realize the importance of finding solace internally instead of relying on a job or political leader or anything outside of them for happiness. People have to truly realize that happiness is an inside job. When we can find peace internally, we are less shaken by the outer world, no matter what it throws our way.”
This has left many people in search of safe, socially distant ways to find that inner peace — and walking has proved to be one of the most accessible activities that we can engage in every single day, no matter where we've been quarantined.
For those that find it difficult to be in the present moment, or are skeptical about the benefits of such a practice, combining movement with your mindfulness practice can be a game changer. “Mindful walking is an easy way to incorporate meditation into everyday life and can be an easier way for beginners to learn how to practice mindfulness versus a seated meditation,” explained Dragonette.
Exercise and meditation both work to accomplish similar outcomes, so engaging in them simultaneously is a one-two punch when it comes to boosting our mental health. “Both regular exercise and mindfulness are proven ways to help with issues like stress, as well as support the treatment of anxiety and depression. Practicing walking meditation regularly can help one be more connected to their body and surroundings while simultaneously making them happier and healthier,” said Dragonette.
For many people, meditation is so intimidating because it can be scary or uncomfortable to sit in silence with your thoughts. That’s why incorporating mindfulness practices into movement can be a helpful strategy.
“Typically when we do physical activities like walking, our mind is elsewhere. We are thinking of emails we need to send or what we need to check off on our to do lists of ruminating on something someone said or did,” said Mattingly. “It is beneficial to do any activity mindfully because it brings body and mindfulness together. As we walk, we feel our feet touching the earth; we feel the sensation of the ground meeting the feet, each step can then become our destination. Mindfulness allows the mind to come back to the present rather than living in the future or the past.”