JUSTINE GOSLING ON EXPEDITIONS AND MENTAL HEALTH


During Justine Gosling's 46-day hike across Finland, the The North Face ambassador had a lot of time to think and experienced many highs and lows. Ultimately, Justine believes there is a lot to be gained from these experiences that force us to spend time alone with our own thoughts, whether on an expedition or on in daily life.

 

"It was 5pm. I’d been walking for 8 hours and covered a distance of 41km. I’d not spoken to anyone all day. The only company I’d had was the odd reindeer and an unwelcome swarm of mosquitos that never seemed to leave me. Yesterday was the same. In fact, it took 46 days like this for me to walk the whole length of Finland from the Arctic north to the capital Helsinki, in the south, a distance of nearly 1,000 miles.

 

"Before I set off, I hadn't considered what I would go through mentally. “I’d go mad spending that much time on my own” “Will you not get bored of yourself?” were the comments people made to me. Weeks spent in the Lapland wilderness, only really thinking about putting one foot in front of the other for hours every day, with very little stimulation or entertainment, turned my brain to blissful mush. I’d pass hours comparing differing shades of green tree leaves, was continually amazed by the design of spiderwebs and followed puffs of clouds as the they passed over me. I had so little to think about and so much time, my thoughts flowed freely and unhindered. I imagined my future, over-analysed my past and grew ideas I now had the headspace to create.

 

"I didn't have the day-to-day hassle of making decisions, relentless emails or jostling with armies of people on the London Underground, or people at all. I hardly ever checked the time, I had nowhere to be and the 24-hour daylight meant time was irrelevant anyway. I ate when I was hungry and stopped to make camp when I was tired. I didn’t look in a mirror for weeks and washed as I was born in the lakes and rivers. Instead of judging myself by my appearance and feedback from others, I judged myself by how I was feeling and, perhaps unsurprisingly because of this, my self-worth grew. In Finland, the things I valued and needed were simpler, nothing felt particularly important and I needn't care what others thought. 

 

"I also had big lows replaying break ups and mistakes I’d made, and when thinking of people I missed. I couldn't hide from my insecurities. No one was around to reassure or distract me, I had to dig myself out of my black holes. I also experienced big highs and huge satisfaction from my achievements such as lighting my own fires and tracking my progress across the country. I learned that I could depend on myself and my confidence grew immensely.

 

"When I met my parents at the finish in Helsinki I felt as though, over the last 46 days, I’d freed myself of many insecurities I’d been dragging around for years. I was proud that I’d got myself through this and what I had learned about myself meant I liked myself a lot more. Back in London, I realised a bit of discomfort from blisters, body aches, feeling cold or being wet was a good thing. I operate on a different scale now. I’m much more patient and tolerant than I was before my trip and my threshold for discomfort has increased, as has my resilience. Less fazes me. Tough times on expeditions have given me perspectives to compare to in my everyday city life, which helps me trivialise my gripes and get over them.

 

The North Face ambassador Justine Gosling is an adventurer, health researcher and travel journalist

 

"Many people have endured lockdown alone, missing the physical contact with others we all crave with the only face to face conversations for weeks being with the supermarket cashier (albeit from behind a plastic shield). I’ve maintained a rewarding but stressful and very busy job, working from home with long hours throughout the lockdown. It has been tough for everyone, but I’ve no doubt getting outdoors and my mental training on expeditions has helped me stay productive and positive. Spending a lot of time alone in your head with just your thoughts for company, as I have on numerous expeditions, can be uncomfortable, but it’s a health screen I feel we shouldn’t avoid as there is much to gain. I find the experience cleansing and return from expeditions with clarity, a clear head for productivity and creativity with a robust attitude. I arrive home after a reset and with a blank page in which to begin the next chapter. Adventure can be a catalyst for change. 

 

"By going through low times in life and on expeditions, proactively reflecting on the experience, we learnt to truly accept that these challenges are transient, even when they don't feel as though they are at the time. We become better at acknowledging what causes dips in mood so we can navigate their presentation. We can also recognise when that dip is coming so we can prevent crashing. If you’ve not let yourself go there before, and reflected on the triggers, response and impact, how can we be comfortable with ourselves and know how to mitigate low periods? 

    

"For me, routine has helped hugely. Without exception and whatever the weather, even on the weekends, I wake up at 7am and go for a walk around the lake near me. Not to go anywhere, but just for the sake of being outdoors and to appreciate nature. I’ve become very maternal about the nesting ducks and swans on the lake and have taken much joy from following their nest building progress daily. I make a list at the end of every day for the next and tick things off as the day progresses, therefore I can see what I’ve achieved. I focus on what I can do, and accept the things I cannot. I write in my personal diary about once a week. It’s comforting to read back on the dramas of last week, realising now that they were non-dramas and externalising feelings helps me release them. A run in the evening ends my working day and helps me to switch off from work. When I settle in bed, I think of three positive events, interactions, achievements or feelings from the day so that I fall asleep with happy thoughts. We all have our own coping strategies, but I’d encourage all to feel everything, the highs and the lows and to get outdoors. Ducklings and Signets never fail to bring a smile."

 


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