A Walk in the Park

This week Orlando therapist Juliana Ochoa share how something as simple as a walk in the park can be a way to strengthen your brain against anxiety and depression.

Juliana Ochoa
Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern

Research shows there are psychological and physical benefits to exercising. Exercise releases feel-good chemicals and balances neurotransmitters in the brain, helping reduce anxiety and depression. How often you get your body moving has an effect on how you feel mentally – the mind/body connection shows us that taking care of one will have an effect on the other. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress, lessen anxiety, decrease feelings of depression, trigger positive feelings, improve sleep, and even increase confidence. All good things! Exercise is not your thing? That’s okay. The key to this invitation to bringing more physical movement into your life is that you find something that you enjoy doing. Even gardening counts. How great is that?

I hope I did not lose you at “exercising,” because I am not suggesting you go out there and sign up for a marathon 🙂 What I am suggesting is, maybe you consider the idea of incorporating some physical activity into your life. And there is not “right” way of doing things. What I mean is this: One day, I might be in the mood to take a mindful walk around the lake; sometimes, I walk while catching up with a friend; and other times, I might choose to listen to a book on Audible while walking. It really depends on how I am feeling that day; I just really love to be outside, try to be outside whenever possible, and am grateful I am able to. There are times when I wake up and I struggle with the motivation to be active, but, I have noticed that being outside increases my joy – and so in the moment, I trick my brain to just trust that being outside will make me feel better. It doesn’t fail. This works for me, and it might or might not work for you. But I wonder what you would find to be true for you if you were open to the idea.

In addition to walking, I offer you other examples for you to consider:

Biking – We have great trails in Central Florida. My favorite ones are Cady Way Trail, Little Econ, and West Orange Trail. It can be nice to ride alone, with a friend, or in larger groups. If you search online, you can find fun cycling groups that are beginner friendly, as well as equally as fun groups that have more experienced riders.

Hiking (yes, in Florida!) – My friend and colleague Amy and I went on a hike at Little Big Econ State Forest a couple of months ago and it was great! The trails are well maintained, there are plenty of signs so you don’t get lost, and there were plenty of people out and about enjoying the sun and beautiful day.

Yoga – In addition to the physical benefits associated with a yoga practice, such as flexibility, strength, and balance, yoga helps to cultivate mindfulness by bringing awareness to your breath and sensations in your body in the present moment. Yoga can be intense exercise, but there are other forms of more calming and relaxing yoga. There are a lot of really great studios and teachers in Central Florida if yoga is something you have been curious about trying.

Dancing – Dancing increases body awareness, which help us become more in tune with our emotions. Increased awareness of our emotions in turn help us better take care of them. And we can do all this while having a dance party 🙂

Canoeing/Kayaking/Paddleboarding – Like gators? Me neither 😉 But I gave these activities a chance, lived to tell the story, and fell in love. We have so many rivers and lakes in Central Florida, it is easy to find an opportunity to rent one of these for a couple of hours. I won’t suggest you make this a solo activity, however – you need a friend to take a photo of that gator in the background (I am kidding – I am sure there are gators in our waters but I promise I have yet to see one in the times I have been out…hope that does not change).

So how do you even begin? Everybody is different, so you’ll have to sit with this question and think about what might work for you. Some people say that once they splash cold water on their face in the morning, they are ready to go. Some people can be persuaded to try anything once they have had a most amazing cup of coffee in the morning. I have also heard that once people put on running shoes, they are mostly likely to get outside. Then there’s motivation via accountability to others. Make plans with a friend and hold each other accountable. Or, think of a reward at the end of your walk or whatever activity, and get excited about it! It is hard to start new habits and so I encourage you to be patient with yourself. You might have to start off a new routine by doing a lot of self-talk, but eventually, your body catches up with your mind and it will be a much easier choice to make.

If you are interested in meeting people and making an exercise routine a more social event, I made some suggestions about looking things up when I described a few activities. There are MeetUps, beginner classes, and/or group events that are easy to find when you search online. I understand this can feel like a daunting task, especially if you are doing it alone. So, if going alone sounds like too much for now, maybe you recruit a friend, and go out there and meet some people that are doing the same thing you are doing – taking a chance on something they might have not done before.

Physical exercise can play a role in your overall mood, and I invite you to give it a chance, for the positive effects can be long lasting. Please make sure you consult with your doctor before engaging in any form of exercise that might be counterproductive to your health and well-being.

If you need help managing feelings of anxiety or depression, please reach out for help from one of the Orlando therapists at Life Skills Resource Group. Call us at 407-355-7378 for a free phone consultation to see how we can best help. We look forward to talking with you!



Juliana Ochoa