Discovering how powerful the great outdoors can be for your mental health and well-being.

The first time I realised how powerful the great outdoors can be in reducing anxiety and stress, was during a 100-mile paddle on the river Severn. I remember the moment clearly, as if I was paddling that stretch of river only yesterday…

I was leading a small group of paddlers on a 4-day adventure, enjoying the sights of the Shropshire and Worcestershire countryside; working in the highly-rewarding world of special education, with a fantastic group of students – each with their own strengths and challenges.

One of my students regularly displayed challenging behaviours – often violent and unpredictable. He experienced constant mood changes and energy levels, as his body reacted to the amount of medication he took daily to help his particular diagnoses.

Then a cow fell in the water. Out of nowhere, a fully-grown cow slipped down the muddy riverbank and disappeared under the water!

The student I mentioned previously, instead of becoming over-excited and difficult to manage – remained calm and focussed, helping to encourage the cow back towards the riverbank and with well-timed splashes and lots of noise – we managed to successfully help the poor animal back to dry land.

So what did I learn from this experience, which helped me discover the power of the great outdoors? Focus – that’s it! Because when you are made to focus on just one task, the following side effects present themselves:

– Reduced distractions

– Eustress (positive stress)

– Being on the edge of your comfort zone (where learning happens!)

– Awareness of your own actions and feeling more in control

– Improved decision making

– Improved confidence and positivity

I’m an advocate for promoting positive mental health, by using outdoor and adventurous activities as a tool for focus and conversation. I find paddlesports to be ideal for this, in particular Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) due to it’s popularity and suitability for all levels of experience and fitness. It’s also great fun and provides a new way for many to explore and have adventures…just keep an eye out for falling cows!

– Matt

Matt is the founder of Loftus Training Solutions – specialists in mental health first aid training and adventure therapy. A licensed paddlesport coach and expedition leader, Matt can often be found teaching stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) in his spare time and leading adventures around the world.