Morning Light: the ‘life-giving’ power of an autumnal morning walk
Writer Rachel Bearn talks about how the restorative power of getting outside in nature has helped with managing her chronic illnesses.
The early morning autumn sun warms my face as I make my way out of our small cul-de-sac and onto the lane. It is quiet. Only the sounds of birds in neighbours’ trees and the plop, plop, plopping of the rain as it falls from leaves onto the shiny black tarmac below, permeate the air. In the midst of last night’s storm, as the wind pulled and pushed its way around our little portion of houses that edge the fields, I had hoped for a morning like this one.
I will get out in all weathers, my bright yellow raincoat pulled up high against the Cotswolds drizzle, but there is something so magical about an early morning after a storm, the smell of petrichor lingering in the air, the pavements gleaming in the sun.
I grasp the lead of my greyhound Pearl, pulling her closer as we step into the little lane that leads to our fields. I unbuckle it at her collar and watch as she trots off to sniff all the storm has left behind. The hedgerows crowd around us as we make our way along the sodden path. Potholes are filled with murky water and whenever the wind moves, droplets of water from the nine-foot-high hawthorns on either side blow into the puddles.
The uneven ground is so familiar to me now. I have trodden in this place nearly every day for over two years. It is the place I learnt to walk again, to enjoy nature again. Here I feel joy in the cold and the warmth, in the wet and the dry, in whatever may come.
The chirp of a nearby robin pierces through the white noise of the birds sat amongst the hedgerows. I look up and notice he is right there in front of me sat on the telegraph wire, his breast rust-red against a brilliant blue sky. The colours cause me to catch breath and I take my time enjoying the spectacle.
These quiet morning moments have the power to change my entire day. As someone who struggles with chronic illness and the anxiety that comes from living with something so debilitating, never knowing from one day to the next how I might feel, the assurance of getting outside, even just for 20 minutes each day, is life-giving.
There have been many studies about the impact of morning light, and how getting outside as close to waking as possible, even just for five minutes, can change your whole body. The benefits – besides the obvious vitamin D exposure on sunny days – include an increase in early morning cortisol release, which helps your body to wake up, and helps you to focus and prepare for the day ahead. Morning light can also regulate your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural clock that tells it when to wake up and when to go to sleep. And the act of being outside first thing in the morning has also been linked to enhanced mood and improved mental health. In fact, studies show that just opening a window next to your bed when you first wake up to soak up some of that morning light can help.
Waking up is hard for me. Living with chronic fatigue means every morning it’s like waking up with a very bad hangover; I feel groggy, and my brain doesn’t function well. But after a clinic recommended it, I chose to trust, and each morning I began to open my curtains and window whilst I waited for my body to wake up. The morning light would stream in, sometimes with cold fresh air, causing me to snuggle down into my duvet, but slowly I felt my brain fog lift, my anxiety improve just a little, and I could get out of bed more quickly.
Now, once awake enough, I dress, grab the dog and head outside for a slow amble up our lane and into our field to soak up even more of that morning light. We sometimes pass runners or other dog walkers, but as the year turns into more and more cold and damp days, we see fewer and fewer people. This world of robins and brambles and hawthorns and sheep becomes ours alone.
Today is one such day. No one here but me and Pearl. An unsociable dog and an anxious girl, and this is just how we like it. We come to the end of the lane, the field beyond opening out before us, and the bright blue sky sharply cuts across a recently ploughed landscape. The last of the blackberries are dewy under all that stormy rain. I must come back to do my final pick of the season, I think.
I roll my sleeves up and let the sun soak into my skin, giving it a much-needed shot of vitamin D. I need all I can get as we head towards the winter. I walk slowly, my mobility limiting the length of steps I can take, but I have grown to love the slow and quiet amble. The simple intakes of breath, each one helping to wash away my morning anxiety, help prepare me for the day ahead.
I feel that strong pull. The change of the seasons dragging me into autumn. The unseasonably warm weather will soon go, but my morning light will still be there, and what magic early winter light can bring.
About the author
Rachel Bearn is a writer and content creator cultivating a homegrown, handmade and slow life in the Cotswolds – find her on Instagram here.