The sun was getting low in the sky, early afternoon on a mild November day. Beams of sunlight turned everything they touched to gold. To my right, the Atlantic ocean lazily lolled, barely breaking against craggy rocks far below. To my left, a green field dotted with sheep was a picture of tranquility. Ahead of me, two woman in my walking group were striding onwards, while behind me the rest of the group chatted quietly.
I walked alone, taking the chance to simply be, breathing in the sea air and enjoying the crunch of my boots on the path.
And that's when it happened. So subtle, so instant it would have been easy to miss. But I felt it.
I had set it down. The weight I hadn't realised I was carrying.
I didn't do it intentionally. It made no noise as it left me. There was no photograph to capture the moment. It simply slipped off me. My backpack was still firmly attached to my body, yet it felt somehow lighter, as though large boulders had been removed from it. More than that, my head felt clearer, the dark cobwebs that had been clogging up the edges of my thoughts suddenly swept out.
A smile began to unconsciously form on my face. The furrows on my brow relaxed. I breathed deeply and sighed out loudly. Light, free, happy. The mental burden of worry, guilt, sadness, anger and stress had gently worked its way loose and fallen off me noiselessly, dissipating into nothingness.
I had set the weight down on a path on Northern Ireland's coast. I have set the same weight down on remote paths and deserted beaches around the world. It's what walking does. Every step works a tightly knotted concern loose. Our deeply buried worries and fears gradually free themselves from their trapped places, losing their poisonous power as they do so.
Every walk has a drop off moment. Sometimes it's mere minutes into a walk. On others, it is many miles before the moment happens. But it will happen. And when it does, you can move forward lighter, freer and happier.
It's time to set your weight down.
Join Glamoraks, a community of women who love to walk. We'll help you do it.
Many women are lonely. They may only have young children for company all week. They could work from home on their own and barely see another human being. They could be surrounded by a huge social or work network and yet still feel lonely. Their long term relationship might have ended or their partner just isn't as interested in doing stuff together anymore. Their kids may have left home, leaving that hole in their world.
On top of that, modern life with posts on social media, texts instead of calls and superficial rushed conversations means that even those people with a big group of friends can feel lonely and unheard.
But there is a cure. Walking with other women.
Walking is known to boost your mood, so feelings of loneliness will feel lessened after a good stomp in the fresh air. But, if you add other women to the walk, you get the chance to have deeper, longer conversations that you typically just don't have time for in normal rushed life. When you walk with women you don't really know, you can simply be yourself. You can leave your 'mum', 'co-worker', 'wife', 'school gate friend' persona behind. Your true self comes to the fore and you can talk about stuff far more freely without risk of judgement. And that gives us the sense of being heard and being less alone.
Glamoraks was set up to get more women walking and connecting and in so doing, making them happier one step at a time.
This February, we are inviting women to take part in Friendship February (#FebFriendship). Join the Facebook group, choose a date and place that you want to go walking and invite others to join you.
Here are just a few of the benefits:
The picture at the top of this post was taken this week when a group of Glamoraks got together simply by using the Facebook group. At the start of the day, I was completely lacking in mojo and had a bad case of the blues. By the end of the walk, I felt completely rejuvenated and full of energy. And that feeling lasted all of the next day too. I got through more work in that day than I had in the preceding three days - all because I'd gone for a walk and met some lovely ladies.
Don't feel lonely. Don't wait for someone to invite you to something. Join the group, set up a walk and hopefully you will find some fabulous new walking friends. Use the hashtag #FebFriendship on your post.
While you're here, please help us reach our goal of doubling our number of members in a single month. Invite your friends to join you in the group. The bigger the group, the more likely women are to find someone to walk with.
See the smiles on those faces? They didn't get there by accident. They got there because a bunch of women who didn't know each other, got together for a good long walk in the countryside.
And this Monday - 15 January - is officially called Blue Monday. It's the day when most people feel pretty glum. The weather is rubbish. The endless darkness is depressing. You feel fat, poor, a bit lost in your relationship or job and you can't even cheer yourself up with a glass of wine or box of chocolates because that would mean you are giving up on your healthy eating resolutions after just two weeks.
Well Glamoraks has the perfect solution to banish the blues. It's called Merry Monday. But frankly, you can take any day next week.
Here's what you do. Head over to the Facebook group and post the following (or a variation thereof):
On 15 January (or a date of your choice if you're busy), I am going to be walking <insert location> at <insert time>. Would anyone like to come? #MerryMonday.
If you see someone post that and you think: heck, that's near me. Yes please. Then respond. Arrange a meet up. Get walking. Get talking. Get fresh air. Forget about everything else that may not be perfect. Just enjoy the miles and the company. And you could be anywhere in the world. Just name your location and you never know, there may be a Glamorak near you. If there's not, invite a friend near you, get them to join Glamoraks and go together. Be sure to share your pictures from your walk in the group afterwards.
Why is this a good thing?
If you aren't on Facebook, feel free to share it on Twitter and see if you can find someone that way. Use the hashtags #MerryMonday and #Glamoraks
If you know anyone who loves walking, please invite them to join the group. It is open to women around the world. Together we can make the world a happier place one step at a time.
It's Mental Health Awareness Week. So I wanted to take some time out to write about how walking has helped me with my own mental health. And I'd love for you to share your stories about how walking has helped you.
About ten years ago I went to see a therapist. I can't even remember why I went to see her. Obviously I really hadn't been feeling happy to warrant me going. Anyway, during our first session together she asked me if I suffered from depression. I laughed and said of course I didn't. After all I was running my own business and looking after two young kids and was on the go all the time. In my head, depression meant sitting in a semi comatose state, crying a lot and barely leaving the house. That wasn't me.
But she made me take a little test to check for depression and I was astounded that I was indeed suffering from mild to moderate depression. I was just a high functioning depressive. In other words, I kept busy all the time so that I didn't have to feel what was really going on underneath. I was constantly critical of myself. And I packed a lot in as a I worried about 'wasting time'. No matter what I achieved, I never got a sense of true happiness or satisfaction.
So I embarked on some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which helped a bit and made me more aware of how I was feeling. I did some other crazy things to try to regain control and a sense of purpose - like sailing across the Atlantic with 18 strangers on a boat. And while that experience certainly gave me some highs, I simply returned to normal life and felt the same (only now I knew that I could achieve incredible things if I wanted to).
The years went on and I would feel better for a bit, but it was always there. It's like I was sleep walking into unhappiness. It took a major personal crisis to get back to a therapist and a coach. Talking helped. Yoga helped.
But it was only when I started walking, that I felt a shift in me. That first proper walk I did entirely on my own, left me feeling alive like nothing else had (except for a few moments on that yacht in the Atlantic). The more I walked, the more I realised that no matter how down or tense or angry I was feeling, a couple of hours walking shifted the mood.
I have been on numerous walks where I have literally stomped out the door in a rage. Like this time. And while the rage is great for getting a lick of pace on, as time passes, my pace slackens, my heart rate slows and my mind settles. I breathe. I notice the little things like bugs, plants and quirky signs. I see the expansive views and the space around me. I feel that sense of happiness that has no purpose, other than just being.
Now there are all sorts of scientific studies that show the benefits that walking has on peoples' mental health. I won't go into those because I'm not a scientist. I simply know that forests and nature and sea air and hills all have a way of restoring my sanity and calming my soul.
Am I fixed? Do I still have depression? Do I still suffer from low self-esteem? Do I still cram my days full of things to avoid feeling or to find something to make me feel alive? Well I don't think I'm entirely fixed. I still cram a lot into my life and I am still my own worst critic. But in general I have more days that I feel happy than not. And on those bad days, I now have a tool that acts as a salve as and when I need it.
I just slip my boots on, put a pack on my back and walk. Whether that's entirely on my own or with company, it's the act of slowing down, breathing, feeling the pull of nature, having that tingle of adventure and simply becoming at one with my surroundings that works.
Walking is the best form of therapy there is. It's free and entirely natural.
I've written this because I want people to realise that mental health issues come in a variety of ways. Even if someone looks 100% fine to the outside world, inside they may not be. But if you have a niggling sense that perhaps all is not well, I suggest you take that person on a walk. And if that person is you, take yourself on a walk. You may just find yourself again.
If you are a woman who likes walking and enjoys the benefits it brings, feel free to join the community here.
I'd love to hear how walking has helped your mental health, so feel free to share it in the comments below.