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Do you need an awe break? The happiness-boosting activity we can all try

 Awe walks are key in soothing anxiety

noticing the beauty around us can help relieve stress
Melanie Macleod
Wellness Editor
Updated: 7 July 2023
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If you've ever been on a walk with a young child, you'll know the frustrating feeling of a five-minute trip taking an hour because they're distracted by every puddle, leaf, squirrel and stone. 

Rather than hurrying them along, we could learn a lot from little ones and the awe they experience from the most mundane of sights, especially if we're struggling to feel happy. 

Enter awe walks; sojourns from the day taken purely with the intention of eliciting a sense of wonder.

"When we feel awe, our focus shifts from our own internal world to the wider, external world, leading us to perceive ourselves as being less significant and helping us feel more connected to our life, community and world," says Dr. Emma Hepburn, author of The Happiness Toolkit

Getting caught in our internal world can lead to overthinking and anxiety — two thieves of happiness — but noticing the beauty of the wider world can open our eyes and boost our happiness. 

Noticing the beauty around us can help to ease stress© Jacob Lund
Noticing the beauty around us can help to ease stress

What is an awe walk?

An awe walk is a wander where you deliberately shift your attention outward instead of inward, taking time to notice the things around you.

One convert to awe walking is Sravya Attaluri, who suffers from depression, anxiety, and ADHD. She found that embarking on regular awe walks helped ease her unhappiness.

Sravya Attaluri found awe walking helped her with anxiety and ADHD
Sravya Attaluri found awe walking helped her with anxiety and ADHD

"I was introduced to awe walking through my cognitive behavioral therapist as I was struggling to build a routine and maintain my moods," Sravya shares. "I was at a point where I was desperate to try anything that could help me feel better. Walking seemed like a low-effort way I could still create a habit, especially on the days I found it difficult to beat my negative thoughts.

"Awe walking in nature has become a reliable coping mechanism when I'm feeling anxious or overwhelmed," Sravya says. "Being stuck at home while feeling anxious can feel claustrophobic. Going for an awe walk in nature helps me calm down, regulate my breathing and connect with my environment.

"When I am in depressive phases, I find it really difficult to maintain routine and exercise. Some days, it takes a huge effort to get out of bed. During these periods, going for an awe walk is a low-effort activity that makes me feel accomplished, healthier and calmer."

Sravya said that awe walks help ease her anxiety too. "I sometimes find it overwhelming to be around people," she says. "Going on awe walks has allowed me to enjoy being outdoors, detach from overthinking and feel comfortable being in public."

Your guide to awe walking

Step 1: Leave your phone at home

It's second nature to pop in your headphones the second you step out the door, but switching off from music and podcasts reduces distractions and is key to helping you appreciate the sounds around you, leading to an injection of awe.

"I make sure to focus on the sounds and sights around me, which includes not texting or listening to music while walking," says Sravya.

"This forces me to be in the present. I always notice new things when I am walking without distraction and I allow myself to engage in whatever draws my attention, whether that's an interesting cafe, a funny advertisement or a thrift shop."

Step 2: Take a new route

New places are most likely to elicit a sense of awe, but you can still be awestruck if you have limited walking options near you.

Walking in the city elicits awe too© Photo Book Pro
Walking in the city elicits awe too

Sravya lives in a city — not exactly a haven of nature — but makes a point to take different routes each day to inspire awe. If you're walking in the same area each day, take note of what is unusual on your walk - pretty colored doors, unusual breeds of dog or unexpected street art, for example.

Step 3: Try an awe break

No time to embark on a walk? An awe break is a microdose with the same effect. Rather than scrolling on your phone when you have a free minute, pause to take a look at photos of awe-inspiring landscapes to induce positive feelings.

Sravya Attaluri is a Columbia Hike Society ambassador. For more information check out Columbia's Instagram page here 

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