I recently spent 30 days almost entirely off social media. And during those 30 days, I spent some time almost every day in the nature.
This was not planned. Over a long weekend when I was at the tail end of a particularly stubborn sinus infection and completely over feeling like crap, I found myself outdoors several days in a row and mostly away from my phone. I welcomed the marked reduction in my anxiety levels. Like many, I live by my phone and specifically by my social media apps. Facebook and Instagram are how I stay connected with friends and family, especially since I moved across the country a year ago. They are my news sources. Hurricane Harvey was still stubbornly hanging over Houston and we have family in the area. The political arena was as contentious as ever. I felt obligated to worry over, understand and comment on every event in our country. I was tired, overwhelmed and now more aware of it because my body was tired and worn down.
The sinus infection that gave me a reason to rest and put down my phone may have started this little experiment but once I was back to 100%, I wondered what would happen if I continued the trend. With work and home life, could I even find time to get in the woods every day? And how would my body handle it? I’ve had knee and foot problems off and on since I started running and hiking 4 years ago-would i be physically able to sustain a daily practice, even if I took it easy?
So I did the one thing I’ve found that works for me when I’m uncertain or scared about moving forward, I just told myself that I’d just see how far I could get and if I needed to quit or take a rest day I could. This takes the pressure off of a brain that very much feels an obligation to finish and check off to do lists. And the point was not necessarily to stick to an admittedly arbitrary schedule just for the sake of the schedule, it was to see what happened when I made consistently more time for the outdoors and less time for the screen.
Here’s what happened:
- I read 8 books (and actually finished a 9th the day after my official 30 days was up)
- I put approximately 100 miles on my legs and accumulated somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 feet of elevation gain
- I started a poetry project that I’m calling Words Hewn-every time I step into nature I take a photo and write a poem inspired by that experience. The goal is to continue this for a year and see how many I accumulate. Still figuring out if I want to post it somewhere or not.
- I was in nature in some form or fashion-from local nature parks or gardens to 7000 feet above sea level on wind swept ridge lines-for 29 of the 30 days (I took one day off when my body gave me the very clear message that I needed a damn break).
- My husband and I spent more time together in nature. Normally my weekend excursions are done alone as he is not a masochist and doesn’t enjoy spending 5 hours trudging uphill. However, increased frequency meant I often needed to decrease intensity (though I still indulged in a few sufferfests-old habits and all that). And since the goal was to get outdoors every day instead of my usual schedule of 3-4 days a week, I had many more opportunities to get outside in a variety of ways. We explored a state park, a trail in the Tillamook State Forest, a local nature park and Portland’s beautiful Japanese garden, in addition to our usual haunts. There was more time spent walking and talking and I feel more connected to him than I have in a long time. I also noticed that he seemed to put his phone down more once he saw I wasn’t reaching for mine at every lull in conversation or commercial break though I never asked him to or made an issue of it. Which led to more discussion or just being with each other in shared space.
- I realized I feel like I haven’t learned anything new in a long time and I want to change that. So far I’ve found an online naturalist program (like a continuing education sort of thing) that starts in a few months, started reading about the history and geology of the area and am contemplating all manner of classes-from how to set rock climbing anchors to wildlife biology.
- When I got free of all the clutter, I found I was able to get more engaged in the world and what was going and ready to be more involved since I wasn’t feeling so overwhelmed and helpless due to a barrage of information, opinions and issues.
On the flip side, I also missed really important happenings in my friend’s lives-family deaths, wedding announcements, job changes, moves-not to mention the regular, normal, happy interactions I have with friends.
But when I first checked instagram after the 30 days were up, I immediately felt a wave of anxiety and the old comparison monster. Thoughts of: I’m not cool enough, I’m not doing enough, I’m not invited all tsunami’d through my head. Maybe I’d been so used to being inundated with social media that I didn’t notice it much before but the thoughts felt loud and sharp. Then I wondered: does my Instagram feed make someone feel that way? and immediately cringed at that thought.
I’m posting this on a media platform because I want people to read it because I feel a need to share and be seen. What I’m realizing is I want to be a little more thoughtful and intentional in how I do that in a way where I can still be my snarky, ridiculous self. And also how I want to consume social media and connect with others.
More to come but for now, just a few of my favorite shots over the last 30 days: