Looking for a new way to connect with nature and boost wellbeing? Try awe walks

We’ve long known that going for walks and spending time in nature are both really good for our mental health.

Well, a simple reframing of what you think about while you’re on a walk can have its own unique and significant health and happiness boost.

‘Awe walks’ are all about shifting your focus outward instead of in.

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott describes awe walks as ‘simple and accessible’.

An awe walk is the practise of consciously noticing the world around us and allowing ourselves to feel small in comparison to that world.

Noel goes on: ‘Awe is a state of consciousness in which we feel small in comparison to something big and powerful to which we ascribe positive feelings – it’s akin to bliss, love etc.

‘It is often felt in religious fervour or can be felt by a child to a parent. We can also feel it in awe-inspiring nature such as mountains for example, or by magnificent art or music.’

This is a psychological state that has a host of benefits for our mental health. We can practice it and get better at engaging with awe will should we so choose with things like awe walks in nature.

And as an added bonus – it’s totally free of charge.

‘Awe produces joy, wellbeing, and inner calm,’ says Noel. ‘The psychological science of it is still being studied, but it is a real phenomenon that produces measurable biological and psychological change.

‘Its usefulness in terms of psychology is that it is freely available and any activity of mind and body which enhances senses of wellbeing lead to improved psychological and physiological outcomes – you literally live longer with less illness and are happier in that life.

‘In terms of psychological wellbeing and health, anything that is available free of charge and can be fitted into daily routine is more likely to be used by people and therefore will have a greater impact on public health and wellbeing.’

We’ve all heard of mindfulness, but in this context, awe is arguably on the opposite side of that wellbeing coin.

‘Mindfulness is a breathing technique that fosters an observer position and detachment from stimuli,’ Noel explains. ‘Awe is the reduction of the observer and immersion in the external.  

‘Psychologists are utilising various processes to enhance the experience of the everyday, so we understand how mindfulness works and we’re trying to attach it to going for a walk in the park. That’s a specific experience. Now we understand a bit about how awe works, we are trying to attach that to everyday experiences as well.

‘Awe has an outward focus. A useful metaphor might be how a child experiences a walk, they notice all the things around them in a sort of out-of-body way allowing themselves to be immersed in the experience of noticing what is around them – flowers, animals, shadows, puddles, clouds, noises etc. 

‘Awe is more akin to this if we use the example of nature, noticing how beautiful it is, how big it is, how connected it is.’

So how can we start going on awe walks ourselves?

Noel says we have to be in the right frame of mind to make it work.

He adds: ‘Switch off the internet of everything (phone, watch etc).

‘Start with a few deep breaths to relax and awaken your awareness of the here and now.

‘As you start your walk notice your feet on the ground and the support the earth offers, then allow your awareness to notice things around you, looking for beauty, looking for wonder, looking for connection. Then finish as you began.’

It’s as simple as that – try to notice the things that surround you during your walk rather than the things going on in your life or in your head.

‘It’s about bringing your awareness to the things around you in a relaxed, uninterrupted and open manner,’ Noel says.

‘The more you practise, the more your awareness will switch to a sense of awe.’ 

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