Blue Monday and Adventure Therapy

From my personal life experience, I can assure you that depression is a very real medical condition. It can, but doesn’t always occur due to a traumatic or upsetting event. It can, but doesn’t always, resolve itself and only last for short periods of time.

Yesterday was ‘Blue Monday’: the most depressing day of the year. This is based on a range of social factors such as post Christmas financial strain, weather conditions and an absence of events to look forward to. Myself and 4 members of the Elisha House Recovery Community engaged in a day of Adventure Therapy at Gisburn Forest this ‘Blue Monday’ and the outcome was far from depression!

Gisburn Forest MTB Trails

The more I learn, the more I realise that we, as a society, do not know or fully understand about depression (and mental health in general for that matter). Many people respond well to medication and to talking therapies like CBT but for me, and for many others, this isn’t enough and the most therapeutic treatments involve:

  • Newness and novelty, like learning new skills or experiencing Awe and Wonder.
  • Connecting with others and sharing positive experiences.
  • Looking after physical health through rest, relaxation, diet and exercise.
  • Spending time outdoors and connecting with nature.

This is why I am passionate about delivering Adventure Therapy sessions and constantly look for opportunities to share everything on the list above. There isn’t much in the way of validated evidence for the efficacy of this method, but there is an insurmountable volume of anecdotal evidence, spanning history, showing that communal outdoors activities support improvements in mental wellbeing.

I am yet to find a cyclist, hiker, fell runner, climber or any other outdoors enthusiast who disagrees with this statement, which I believe to be due to their own personal evidence. Some feel this so strongly that they go out of their way to share it.

I would like to thank Mark Vose for his generous donation that led to the provision of an adventure therapy day, which took place on ‘Blue Monday’ and benefitted 4 men from Elisha House recovery community. These men are recovering from drug & alcohol addictions and also deal with issues around mental health on a daily basis.

We arrived at Gisburn Forest at 10:30 and began the day by developing some fundamental mountain bike skills. One member of our group is a former downhill MTB racer so had the ability to showcase his strengths in a very noticeable way. The others shared his pride by practicing, growing and developing skills at their own levels in a supportive environment.

Following this, we practiced Shinrin Yoku to connect with the forest. By focussing all of our attention on one small object, such as a leaf, a pine cone or a patch of moss, we were able to open our minds to what nature has to offer and this stayed with us throughout the day. These were our observations from the activity. (please forgive some paraphrasing: I didn’t record detail as I joined in with the activity too!)

“I chose to stand under that tree because it made me feel safe. I’ve been feeling a lot of sadness lately and feeling safe allowed me to process that sad feeling more comfortably”

“I kept thinking about the purpose, what is it for? What does it do? That made me realise that everything has a purpose, even if we don’t know what it is”

Becoming at one with the Forest

“The moss is so soft and spongy. Its dry to touch but it gives of this silky liquid. It feels soft like its cleaning me and protecting me”

“The way the needles are connected to the branch is just like the way the branches attach to the tree. It’s like every part of the tree is a tiny version of itself”

Lunch was then enjoyed before we rode to the highest part of the forest to practice a guided meditation. “send it” became the catch phrase for the next couple of hours as we rode up through the forest, stopping at several points where skills can be enjoyed alongside stunning views, sounds and smells. We laughed, learned, grew and celebrated achievement, progression and effort as we took time to play. Both the desire to take risks and get outside of our comfort zone and the desire to be calm and observe the world around us were indulged with perfect synergy.

Our guided meditation noted the connection between us and the environment. We focussed on how our out breath nourishes the trees around us and our in breath is nourished by the oxygen produced by those same trees, once we found connection, both externally and internally, we explored the idea that our lives both shape and are shaped by out environment. We did this by considering how a river both shapes, and is shaped by the landscape it flows through.

All that remained from this point was to descend through the network of mountain bike trails and fire roads and end our day, physically tired, emotionally enriched and satisfied!

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