These past two days I spent bushwalking at the Royal National Park. I took the famous and popular Coastal Track from Bundeena down to Otford. Prior to beginning on Sunday, I had a feeling that I really needed to do this walk and had been feeling pretty fatigued in the lead up to it. Now a day and a half later, having gotten up at 5:20am on Sunday to begin the 4 hour journey (cycle, train, ferry) to the walk’s start point, and having covered the better part of 30km on foot (over some tough terrain) and 20km on bike whilst spending last night sleeping uncomfortably in a tent, I now find myself feeling distinctly refreshed. I feel incredibly relaxed, my mind is not jumping from one task or decision to the next and I keep laughing at the most unlikely things.

Otford (the walk’s end point) found itself one of the main objects of my amusement. Having seen signposts to it from the beginning, starting at 26km and gradually getting whittled down by our relentless walking, it held this magical allure as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (the Coastal Walk, of course, being the rainbow in this tenuous analogy). I had rather hoped to find a pub when we reached it, or at the very least a cafe where I could grab the hot chocolate I had been daydreaming of when we set out on pouring rain and harsh winds that morning. To find that it contained little more than three roads, three houses (one was in construction), some signposts (mainly containing the names of Otford’s roads, in case you couldn’t find one of the other two) and a railway station stimulated feelings of disappointment outweighed by feelings of amusement. I found it all very funny, which made me rather happy.

However, this piece of writing is not dedicated to Otford’s charms or lack thereof. In fact, no piece of writing ever should be dedicated to Otford. If it was, I wouldn’t read it (I might out of curiosity when no one was looking).

It’s about Fatigue.

So.

Naturally upon acknowledging my feelings of refreshment upon finishing the walk, the next thought to enter my head was ‘why?’. Indeed. And then I asked myself why we ever feel tired. What causes this?

Our first instinct often is that we need more sleep. Or a holiday. Somehow we summse the lack of sleep and/or holiday is at the root of our feeling worn out. I don’t doubt this can be the case, but I would venture that the roots of fatigue can be complex, and often cumulative. I believe that doing one kind of activity for too long can wear us out, whether it be the same job, the same routine, the same lifestyle. If you don’t change it up, those areas of our brain being utilised by these activities don’t get a break in which to recover.

For instance at the end of my time travelling I was exhausted. It wasn’t a hard lifestyle; I was able to make up each day as I felt, never worried about somewhere to sleep or food to eat. But I felt so fatigued by that lifestyle. Travelling has great variety true, but although the places change and the people too, the conversations you have and the type of things you do in each place become quite repetitive. I was shattered, and yet raring to get in to my new work and new life in Sydney. On the face of it, that sounds more exhausting, but I had so much energy for this different challenge – much more than for travelling.

Reading is a great love of mine as a means of winding down, but in recent times that’s not always helped. If I’ve had a brain-bending day that challenges me to work through problems, then reading a non-fiction book that engages me in a similar way does not help – it just wears me out further. However, reading a novel does help.

The realisation that I think I’m coming to from this rather anecdotal blog, is that when we look at how much energy we are using, we should not look just at the activities we’re doing, but how they work our brains. My long walk refreshed me, because the parts of my brain usually utilised by the work I do were able to go on holiday. In fact, trying to access them actually required a lot of effort. Instead I had been thinking about my environment, watching for the terrain, taking in the sounds, picturing Otford…

In recent weeks I’ve not been bouncing out of bed in the usual energetic manner, ideas and connections weren’t flowing like I’m used to and physically I hadn’t been feeling too well. Yet, I had changed little in my lifestyle (if anything getting more sleep and downtime) and this presented physically. I find it fascinating that this can be so; that mental fatigue presents in a physical way. I feel that mental health and physical health are so intricately connected, and as society begins to accept and discuss mental health, the depth and extent of this connection will only increase in our consciousness.

It also demonstrates the value of building in to our lifestyles activities that work different parts of our brain. Activities that require such focus that you don’t reflect on work. Perhaps sport or creative hobbies.

I’m certainly going to take that lesson on board, and reflect a little more in this subject in the mean time.

And next time I feel tired, I might just take another long walk. To Otford.

P.S. One more thing. If there’s one takeaway action, it’s this: spend a day without turning on and using your phone or computer (or tablet). Acknowledge how uncomfortable feels, and how remarkable it is that this was probably the norm a few decades ago. What I found, is that it is also very relaxing. Your stress levels noticeably drop.

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