As our brand new event on 5th October approaches, Esther Rosewarne reflects on the theme of Adventure and Wellbeing.
“I can’t do this”
“What was I thinking?!”
“Why on EARTH have I done this to myself?”.
Sound familiar? We’ve all been there at some stage, especially during an adventure. An expedition can be going perfectly well, only to be interrupted by a wall of despair descending right at the moment the challenge mounts. Even with careful preparation and years of experience we can still end up in this ‘crisis’ situation, beginning to wonder whether we’re going to make it or not…
I last found myself in such a situation – wailing the above phrases – midway through a big climb back in July. The wall hit me hard and I really thought I’d reached my limit; more so than any other time before. I was hiking through the Olympic wilderness in Washington state and had reached the halfway point of my expedition: the big climb. Nothing had gone to plan that day. I had been plodding through unbearable heat and humidity for hours, and my legs were like lead. Nonetheless, I had ignored my angry blisters and complaining feet, and pushed on up the mountainside, knowing I had to reach camp before dark. Many consecutive days of pushing my body to the limit finally tipped me over the edge, and within a couple of hours I could barely take another step. I was on the verge of tears. I simply couldn’t do it. Nope. No way.
Somebody said to me recently that:
Adventure = 95% discomfort + 5% awe and elation
It’s true, so frequently we gloss over how testing adventure really can be. Most of the people in outdoor/sports magazines look like they haven’t seen a speck of mud nor a bead of sweat in a long while. We cheer for the benefits of fresh air and fun, and claim that a little adventure “does wonders” for overall wellbeing. The data back us up; studies show that both physical activity and visiting sites of outstanding natural beauty have a significant impact on happiness rates in individuals of all backgrounds.Movement and getting outside both help to boost serotonin and reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. But, if 95% of our time adventuring is really that bad, how can this be so?
Those of us familiar with the mid-adventure crisis (as depicted above) also know that the best way to get through such scenarios is by reminding yourself how great you will feel afterwards, when you’ll look back on your achievements and say “I did it”. More importantly, you’ll know that if you had to, you could do it again. So, the real reason why adventure enhances our wellbeing?
– the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
Resilience is crucial to the nuts and bolts of our wellbeing. More so than enjoying a good view or spotting a squirrel. By its very nature, adventure requires us to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones. It’s here, in these moments of dis-comfort, that we are able to build the resilience that will help us through many of life’s challenges.
Resilience is: How we get through the adventure crises.
Resilience is: How we tackle stress
Resilience is: How we overcome emotional trauma and physical pain.
Resilience is: Being able to maintain perspective, even at the hardest of times.
Of course, we do adventure for those moments of awe and elation, but I think for many of us, the real benefit of adventure is knowing that if we can manage that awful climb, we can manage anything.
I’m amazed whenever I look back on that day in the Olympics. I made it in the end. I’m ready for the next climb. Building resilience looks different on every individual, but the impact it has on wellbeing is powerful. I’m delighted to introduce two more women, Victoria and Lynn, who share their thoughts on adventure, resilience, and wellbeing below. The three of us have vastly different experiences, but a shared sense of resilience.
Life after chemotherapy: resilience to adventure again
An avid horse rider, Lynn describes how she found the resilience to trust her body again after undergoing cancer treatment.
As my cancer treatment came to an end-I was released back into the world; weak, dizzy and bald. Like a shipwreck-I clung gratefully to the beach and let the tide go out with the memory of the storm that had brought me here still roaring in my ears.
No coincidence then that I chose the beach for my first solo walk without kindly family ‘minders’. On a cold sunny February day, I pulled my beanie hat down and my collar up and set off purposefully. After 5 minutes and had to sit down on a breakwater to rest. I felt aged, my body just wasn’t up to the task. I looked out over the sea and wondered if I would ever be the same again? Would I do the things that made me me? Nothing brings me more joy in life than horse riding; thinking about getting back in the saddle got me through those long, tedious hours of chemo. But standing there on the beach that day, I wondered whether I would ever do so again.
February became March and I walked. Ungainly and off balance, I walked and fell down and got up and walked again, my hair began to grow, my scars healed, and my muscles began to respond. I became more and more resilient.
With the help of a gym for cancer patients, which strengthened my core and got me walking further each week, I got to the point of getting on a friend’s gentle pony. ‘Just to walk’ she said, as if she knew that I felt so unsafe I nearly got straight off again. A voice in my head reminded me of how I had dreamed about this moment-every sleepless steroid night, every boring hospital ward. This was my reward. It was scarier than I had imagined.
Almost a year later and I am back on the beach, only this time it’s a beach in Cumbria for a two-hour ride on an unknown horse. I’m terrified. How fast will they go? Am I fit enough to do this?
There is a long walk down to the sands but once we are there in the wind and the rain, I can’t wait. The command to canter goes up and I am there at the front, riding the fine line between fear and exhilaration, the beach stretch out for miles ahead of me. Because survival is more than staying alive – it has to be about that crazy, speed-thrill moment of riding the wave.
Victoria: Freediving for Peace of Mind
Marine Biologist and experienced diver Victoria explains how her underwater adventures help to build emotional resilience in everyday life.
I started diving as soon as I could, aged11 years old. I spent every opportunity diving; rapidly moving up the stages of PADI qualifications and loving the world beneath the waves. When I decided I wanted to learn to free dive, people told me I was mad. No equipment, no breathing aids; just my humble, human body, and the ocean. It’s true: along with this freedom, there is a risk of things going wrong, and I’ve definitely had some tricky situations. The sea is unpredictable and likes to keep us guessing. But this doesn’t mean I am a reckless risk taker; we plan carefully and take all sorts of safety precautions. For me, the draw of freediving actually comes from building on my ability to calm myself completely so that I can fully experience the world around me… Both in and out of the water!
It’s easier to explain if I go through some freediving basics…The process of the dive is split carefully into sections. First, you have a relaxation phase in the water. This is when you start to slow your breathing, while relaxing each and every muscle very slowly. Any additional tension will use up valuable oxygen, during the dive, so it is important to leave it at the surface! Then, you go between “belly” breathing and “chest breathing” to draw air deep into your lungs and saturate your body with oxygen. Once you are fully relaxed and confident, you take a “big breath”, and you dive. You sink down, under the waves. The first thirty seconds or so are incredibly calm in comparison to the world above. Especially as your breathing can’t interrupt the silence. With your chin to your chest, you sink down, deeper and deeper.
Most people seem to think that freedivers are in a constant battle to fight their burning lungs and tingling bodies, not to mention their fear of misjudging a dive and not coming up for air in time. But, as I say again, relaxation is key. The main challenge is maintaining a meditative state; I often use mantras to soothe my mind and train my thoughts. Achieving total body relaxation when you’re pushing your lungs to the limit has taken a lot of practice, but I’ve trained myself not to think about whereI’m going, but about howI’m getting there. Given that we’re all so goal-obsessed in day-to-day life, focussing on a journey is a refreshing – albeit challenging – mindfulness task! But freediving can help anyone to no end in their everyday lives. If you can train your mind in such an awesome situation, you can keep calm pretty much anywhere. It’s a really authentic resilience of the mind.
How do you build resilience through adventure? Come to our Adventure and Wellbeing event on 5th October, share your experiences and learn from other like-minded women and men. Our annual flagship event WAExpo2018 is the next day on 6th October. References:
‘Resilience’, Oxford English Dictionary Online, < https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/resilience> (accessed 09/09/2018)