Enjoying Leisure Time and Walking The Hills of Wales

It was a busy old summer with work and family things going on and now, already, the kids are back at school and the nights are starting to draw in (winter is coming, boo!).

This year we headed over to the Brecon Beacons in Wales for our family holiday, and it was a welcome return (after the pandemic and everything that has gone with it) to my old stomping grounds. There was lots of walking and exploring, as well as time to relax, read and chill over the week.

We were staying at the foot of a mountain (or large hill, or a giant mountain when compared to the usual flatness of the fens!) and so I made it my daily mission to walk the mile up to the summit each day and to broaden out my walks to take in more and more of the beautiful countryside. I know it's often commented upon but even to me, as a Welshman, there seemed to be more sheep on this mountain than I can ever remember seeing in one place before! 

Either side of the Beacons, we had a chance to stay with my Mum just outside Cardiff, in the village I grew up in and lived in until I moved over to Cambridge and then Ely. Not being able to run, I took the opportunity to hike out along the old railway lines where I used to play with my friends as a kid, up through the forest we would camp out in as a teenager, and up onto the Garth mountain in the next village, before heading back home (a circular route of about seven miles up and down). 

There's a spot at the far end of the Garth that is probably one of my favourite places in the world. You can sit on a rock a couple of metres down the side and look out over Cardiff and all the towns that lead up to the capital. Whether it's raining or sunny, the middle of the day or dusk, this is one of the most peaceful spots and you can just watch the signs of life down below, while feeling at peace and free to let your mind wander. Of course, you need to find your own favourite peaceful spot because I don't want to find it crowded the next time I get the chance to get there!

Having the time to relax and read, to have fun with the girls, to explore new places, and to feel that burn in the legs as you hike up a hill, as well as reminiscing along some old haunting grounds, made this one of the most enjoyable breaks I can remember for a long while. And, as I've covered many times before, laughter and fun, relaxing and exercise are all good for your mental health, along with experiencing enjoyable leisure time. 

I think one of the main reasons that this was such a good and enjoyable holiday was that it incorporated many of the things that are good for our mental health and well-being. Spending time in nature, exercising, laughing and enjoying leisure time all have a host of physical and mental health benefits. 

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Mental Health and Nature

One of my favourite things on holiday, wherever we go, is heading out on a long walk so I can explore the place I'm staying in. When my wife and kids go shopping, I can often be found heading towards the nearest hill, cliff or river. On this holiday, it was mainly the mile walk up to the summit of the hill next to us, with my walks ranging from a brisk three or four miles, up to a more steady eight or nine.  

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And, of course, we know spending time in nature is good for your mental health. It helps you to reduce stress and anxiety and boosts your mental health and sense of well-being. I've written about this and suggested it a number of times before. It really is a good thing to do for your mental health. There's also a lot or research that demonstrates the benefits of time in nature for reducing anxiety and stress, and in supporting your mental health and well-being.

There's more on this in these articles:

Time In Nature For Your Mental Health

Using Nature To Reduce Stress and Boost Mental Health

Using Nature To Positively Impact Your Mental Health

Reduce Anxiety and Stress With Nature During The Pandemic

Mental Health Awareness Week - Mental Health and Nature


Exercise and Mental Health

As well as heading into nature, getting out walking and exercise in general, has a positive impact upon your mental health. Normally I might go for a few jogs, but with a sore ankle, it was long walks that I turned to this holiday. Just as in my usual routine with bootcamps and training, I love the feeling of having completed a good workout (and I hate the feeling of missing a workout too!). No matter whether I am bursting with energy, or on a bit of a grumble, everything feels better for getting moving.  

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There's a whole wealth of research and evidence that supports exercising and moving for supporting your mental health and reducing anxiety, depression and stress (as well as other benefits). Rather than repeat all of the research here, do take a look at these articles where I cover it all in more depth:

Exercise & Mental Health - Depression, Stress & Memory

Boost Mental Health By Sitting Less and Moving More

Ely Festive 5k 2019 and Why You Should Get Running For Your Mental Health

Depression: Does aerobic exercise have anti-depressant effects?

Anxiety Disorders - Why you should get moving to treat anxiety

Daily Physical Activities Can Boost Your Well-being and Mental Health


Laughter And Fun

One of the great things about getting away on holiday is the extra time I get to spend with the kids. Without all of the screens, and free from the routine of school, we all relax, have fun and laugh lots.  

Humour, laughter and fun can all help with alleviating anxiety, stress and depression symptoms, and being in a good mood naturally means you tend to be more relaxed, less negative and in a more upbeat mood. 

There is research and evidence to support the beneficial effects of laughing more, and not just because it makes us feel good. Laughter can help reduce anxiety and stress, can help with depression, can boost your immune system and can even help you burn more energy! 

I've written about laughter for reducing anxiety and stress, and supporting your good mental health here:

Using Humour To Tackle Anxiety and Stress - Anxiety Relief with Laughter

Is Laughter The Best Medicine For Anxiety, Stress and Mental Health?

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Relaxing To Reduce Anxiety 

On holiday, we can often find the time to properly relax. Away from our usual commitments, routines and chores, there just seems to be more time to do things, such as doing nothing! Whilst we all generally recognise the importance of taking time to mentally and physically relax, it's often one of those things that gets squeezed out of our busy days, that you may never quite get around to, or that you don't engage in very well.

Being mentally calm and physically relaxed can help you to clear your mind and think clearly. It helps with reducing stress, worry and anxiety. Put simply, relaxing (effectively) is good for your mental health. There's more here:

Relaxation Training For Anxiety - Could It Help You Ease Your Anxiety?

Positive Imagery Relaxation For Anxiety and Stress Relief

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Engaging In Leisure Time

Engaging in leisure time has a host of benefits, including reduced stress and increased happiness. However, some people think of leisure time as being  wasteful and unproductive, after all, there is always somthing you could be getting on busily with. You may feel guilty if you just relax and enjoy yourself, you may worry about the things that need doing and that are sitting there; some people get anxious when they have time to think and there may be other reasons if you believe leisure time to be wasteful time.

Of course, leisure time may not be much fun if you're just procrastinating about something, or avoiding doing things you know need to be done.

In fact, research shows that the belief that leisure is wasteful is associated with poorer mental health outcomes, including lower reported happiness, and greater reported depression, anxiety, and stress.  "Happiness, it seems, may be driven not only by whether people engage in leisure, but whether they find value in their leisure" (Tonietto, Malkoc, Reczek, and Norton, 2021).

enjoying leisure time mental health 

Perceiving leisure time as being productive and enjoyable can lead to benefits for your mental health (of course you could adopt some of the ideas above in your leisure time, such as spending time in nature, exercising, relaxing properly or having fun). Perhaps one of the reasons we tend to enjoy holidays so much is because, away from many of the usual daily routines, chores, demands and responsibilities, we can enjoy our leisure time so much more. Regardless, it makes sense to recognise the benefits of your leisure time and to do the things that support your mental health and well-being.

It was great to head over to Wales and to find time for these things that boost mental health and make us feel happier and more positive. We had such a good time that we'll be off to the same part of the world again next year and taking the opportunity to explore another corner of the Brecon Beacons. Hopefully I'll find time to visit my favourite spot on the hill too. I can't wait! 

To your health and happiness,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

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Tonietto, Gabriela N., Selin A. Malkoc, Rebecca Walker Reczek, and Michael I. Norton. "Viewing leisure as wasteful undermines enjoyment." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 97 (2021): 104198.