I am a self-confessed lockdown sceptic and I have good reason to be. I work with mental health.
Lockdowns and social restrictions are about the most damaging things that can happen to humans. We know that instinctively. Staying at home is not natural. No one likes to see a lone caged animal designed to be roaming the plains or be free in the sea, stuck behind bars or in a tank. Why? Why do we see that and recoil and wish to set them free? I believe we see us in them. The need to be free and in our best environment.
The Government’s edict to stay at home is about the worst thing that can happen to people for their mental health. We are social creatures. We also need to be in nature, to be outside in the sunlight and in the fresh air. The people driving the health advice seem to know little about health. We are left inside attached to our technology, often alone, living life from a head based place. But the spirit has needs too.
One of the problems and one which I believe is driving widespread mental health issues is that as humans we live so much in our heads. We analyse and think too much and disconnect from our innate sensory selves, the inner guide, the part that knows. We can learn so much from animals if we choose to look. They do not live in their heads in the same way that humans do. They are more bodily aware sensory creatures. They sniff the air, listen with acute ears, take in their world with all their senses. They shake things off and get on with their lives.
Connection to others and to nature is vital for us. We need to use our senses and connect with them to thrive. I was thinking about this as I walked with my dog along Belhaven Bay in East Lothian on Saturday morning. It was 8.45 and a chilly -3 degrees, and the ‘Salty Sisters Dunbar’ were already in the sea. There were 10 surfers that I could count also enjoying the waves with more heading to the beach. I doubt if any of them were in their heads as the intense cold of the water flooded their senses in a way that must have made them feel 100% alive to the world and to themselves. At one with not just nature, but with their nature.
Something which takes us out of our heads and into our bodies is deeply rejuvenating, and cold water swimming does that in spades. Ask anyone who does it why they do it. It is addictive and exhilarating. It is a remedy for mental health issues, it restores the body and mind in a harmonious whole.
Staying at home robs us of our basic rights to a healthy life. I know that sounds back to front in the presence of a widespread virus, but in truth we are not more resistant to viruses when deprived of fresh air and natural surroundings. In times past the nature cure pioneers knew what humans needed to heal mind, body and spirit – fresh air, pure water, healthy food and nature. Not surprisingly many of the early nature cure clinics were in the Alps and other places of stunning natural scenery. We need all of this to thrive, and fight viruses through a healthy body AND mind.
It was not so long ago that people lived much more physically active lives, outside in nature, aware of the changing seasons, feeling the strength of the wind and the heat of the day. We are not designed to mostly live inside our houses or indeed inside our heads. We are emotional sensory creatures and when disconnected from nature and from our nature, it leads to illness.
The modern world is a very head-based, head biased place to a worrying degree. As a counsellor I find that many of my younger clients especially live in their heads. Life is seen and experienced from the neck up.
Technology is the driver of most people’s day. When the first lockdown happened last March, I was perhaps somewhat naively amazed at the idea that most people could work from home. How have we come to this that we can mostly work through a keyboard? This is a super disconnected state masquerading as connection. Doesn’t anyone make anything with their hands anymore? Or use their bodies? Too much machine and not enough sweat perhaps? I do not say this lightly, I work every day in a back-breaking physical way as I have 4 horses. I always feel-good inside after being in their environment even if it has been mainly shovelling s…t! The physicality of it brings me out of my head and into a softer, more connected place within. Being with them in nature, lifts my spirits.
People need people. Feeling the touch of each other’s presence, feeling the touch of each other’s skin. Hugging and kissing can never be replaced by zoom. It is not just once removed it is disconnection of a worrying kind.
Most of the work I do with clients is to help bring them back into harmony with themselves through reconnection. Helping them into a sensory, feeling state, feeling their breathing and their bodies in a conscious way. One route to heal the mind is through the body. Activity works wonders. So, does sensing the world around you. I sometimes take people of a ‘walk and talk’ session and we use our senses as we go. Tuning into our deepest parts takes us out of the analytical head and into the intuitive place within in a way that restores and heals.
I don’t know which comes first. A healthy body equals a healthy mind, or the other way round? There are sound arguments for both but for me it is about integration and holism. I do not think one can be separate from the other. It is the separation from others and the separation of mind and body that leads to mental health deterioration.
We cannot stay at home any longer and not socialize and get outside if we want to stay healthy. Viruses have been with us since the dawn of man, and we can’t hide inside from them forever or the consequences will be devasting to our minds, bodies and spirits.