How Ecotherapy Led Me to the Great Wall of China

Around 9 years I ago I faced my biggest fear, agoraphobia. After facing a huge amount of stress from sitting for my exams, I started to develop a fear of stepping foot outside my front door. No explanation, no event that I could remember which could have caused it, I just woke up one day and couldn’t think of being out in the open.

Back then, even just the thought of ecotherapy would have haunted me with fear. To find myself with nature meant I was open and vulnerable, which sent me into a frenzy at the mere thought!

However, ironically, ecotherapy was the only way I could overcome this irrational fear and ecotherapy was the only thing that got me back on my feet, and on the travel journey I’m on today.

What is Ecotherapy?

Ecotherapy is regarded as applied ecopsychology that nature can help you manage your mental health. Many studies have suggested that getting outdoors can have a hugely positive effect on a person’s mentality. This form of therapy prescribes a dose of the outdoor activities with a bit of physical activity thrown in, to help you boost serotonin and aid in the treatment of depression. The main purpose is to get one out into the open and allowing to experience everything that life has to offer!

How has Ecotherapy changed my life?

When I was a child, I was forever wandering a country estate or castles with my mother. These were the standard weekend outings and I always felt an overwhelming sense of calm whenever I looked out onto a beautiful vista. Of course, at 6 years old it’s hard to really appreciate those things, but I remember vividly how it felt. After my last phase of depression, I decided to try something I hadn’t really attempted before to control my mental health issues, exercise. I am not a gym person. I wanted to try more challenging walks, away from the treadmill, so I ventured out into the stunning countryside to partake in a few more eco therapy activities. This is where I really started to feel completely at peace and stress free. Since then, I always lookout for hikes everytime.

Why I decided to walk the Great Wall of China

I wanted to do something to help support the mental health charities for quite some time, but I wanted to do something that I haven’t had done before. One pleasant Sunday morning, I spotted an ad for the Mental Health Foundation’s Great Wall of China trek. It didn’t take me long to book the trip! The trek represented, not just a physical challenge, but the opportunity to prove to face my agoraphobia. It also combined the biggest factor in my recovery, the outdoors and cements the undeniable link between nature and mental health.

The Great Wall Discovery

The Great Wall Discovery is a thrilling challenge of twists, turns, ups and downs. It begins four hours north of Beijing, this week-long challenge tackles a series of vigorous twists, turns, upwards climbs and over 10,000 relentless steps. Yan Mountains on one side and on the either side is the Gubeikou Gateway of the winding path. The challenge ends in the vast metropolis of Beijing, exploring the cultural highlights of China’s historic capital.

Nobody ever talks about the steepness of the Great Wall of China is. It doesn’t look all that intimidating from the pictures, either, surrounded by canopy of red and gold or frosted with snow, lazily weaving in and out of view along the rolling peaks of China’s northern frontier.

For me, as I stared up from the base of a 4,000-step stairway at the outset of my six-day trek “steep” is the first word that all I could visualize. It’s a monstrous ancient structure: rugged and relentless, snaking along the historical border between China and Mongolia. It clings to the high green peaks of the borderland at jaw-dropping angles. It’s as steep as you can imagine, in some places the well-worn steps rise 80 degrees skyward.

But in that moment when I first saw the Great Wall up close and I was overwhelmed, I realised why no one mentions its vertigo-inducing heights.

Each area of the wall is a little bit different. Some are fully restored and is favourite amongst tourists. Some parts are crumbling ruins enveloped in forest, charmingly free of crowd.

On some days of the trek, we encountered fields of corn and cotton, where entire swaths of farmland are covered with makeshift scarecrows meant to fend off mountain chickens. Sometimes, we walked on top of the wall for miles at a time, eye level with eagles; other times we walk in its shadow, glancing up now and then to remind ourselves that soon we’ll be back on it. We passed ruined farmhouses and dense patches of wildflowers and high mountain ridges where the wall and the forest have become one.

Most nights, our accommodations were simple guest houses in villages where farmers have lived in the shadow of the wall for generations beyond memory. We never took any shortcuts to reach the trail—no gondolas or chairlifts. Everyday, it requires a strenuous climb, with stone steps and dirth paths carved from thick growth of forest.

Sometimes, the closest we came to civilization was a warning sign informing us that the area is closed to the public. The hiking varies on the most broken-down sections of the wall with the terrains becoming rougher. I would suggest to walk the great wall of China once in a lifetime.

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