We all have mood swings, right? It’s part of being human. But have you ever really listened to your mood? Have you ever really paid attention to what makes you feel happy, excited and energised and what makes you feel sad, lethargic and lonely?
I don’t think I ever really did. Until I started the vanlife and all the sudden there is no escaping it. There are fewer distractions. There are fewer things that force me to ‘pull myself together’ and less general outside pressure to feel or be a certain way. It’s just me, my van and my mood swings.
For most of us, our days are pretty structured and planned. Most people wake up in the morning with a list of things to do. Get the kids to school, get to work, do your work, get home, make dinner, spend time with your partner, family or friends… At least that’s what my old life used to be like (minus the take the kids to school part).
Most days, it doesn’t really matter how you feel in the morning. You go about your day regardless of it. Of course, you might feel more excited about it all on some days and less so on others. But it’s not like you wake up in the morning and realise it’s raining and you feel a bit lazy and don’t really want to do all the things you have to do today – and so you just don’t. No, you pull yourself together and start working through that to do list for the day.
In fact, I think most of us are not even really aware of our mood most of the time because we just don’t have time to really listen to our bodies and minds and think about it.
But what if you leave this busy, structured life behind? What if you wake up every morning and you can just do whatever you want to do that day?
Well, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last two months, living in my van and cursing around New Zealand. I work an average of about 12-15 hours a week – most of the time when and where ever suits me. The rest of the time is just my time. I can do whatever I want with it. It’s an amazing experience. If there’s surf I can go surfing. If there’s wind I can go kitesurfing. I can spend time reading and writing, I explore new places and meet new people.
But it also means I need to make decisions everyday as to what I want to do. Gone are the days where most of my time was pretty structured and planned-out, where most of my day was spent doing things I had to do, instead of things I choose to do.
All of the sudden, I have to ask myself ‘What do I want to do? What do I feel like doing?’ - all the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. It’s a pretty amazing way to live. But it has made me hyper aware of my feelings and moods. Because they actually matter. Gone are the days where I had to get up and go to work no matter how I felt. If I wake up now and feel low or lazy, there is no external pressure that pulls me out of it. I just have to deal with the fact that I feel that way.
It’s intense and challenging at times. Traveling alone in a campervan like I do, makes it very easy to dwell on negative emotions and moods. I could spend hours just feeling negative and sorry for myself without anything stopping my or anyone even noticing. It’s completely up to me to pull myself out of it – or sometimes just accept the way I feel and go with it for a while (and then pull myself out of it).
But as challenging as it might be at times, it also has been amazing to experience my moods at this deeper and more raw level and learn about what impacts it.
The first thing I noticed, is how weather dependant my mood is. I think most people feel a bit more energised on sunny days. But when you live in a van and your life mostly revolves around weather conditions, it’s taken to the extreme – at least for me.
I’ve noticed how the exact same situation feels very different on rainy days then it does on sunny days. Here’s a great example. Last week, I arrived at a new place. It was a grey and rainy day and the fact that it had been like that for about five days didn’t help. The surfing conditions had been pretty average for days and there was no wind anywhere.
The place I was planning on staying at for a few days was right by a beautiful beach in a remote area and there was hardly anyone there – not surprising given the weather. Somehow, I had this really weird feeling about the place and the overall situation. I felt restless and worried. There were no other campers and I started to worry about spending the night on my own out there (I hardly every worry about being on my own). I felt tired and low and couldn’t really get motivated or excited about anything.
Less than 24 hours later, at the same place, the sun is shining, I had an awesome surf session and all the sudden the world looks very different. I feel energised, happy and perfectly safe and am actually excited about being the only one there overnight.
There are three other key factors that I’ve noticed impact my mood a lot; Activities, healthy food and the ocean.
I generally feel happier, more energised and motivated when I’ve done some type of activities. Ideally that’s surfing or kite surfing but going on a bike ride or a walk through beautiful scenery also does the trick. Good thing I’m getting plenty of all of that right now :)
Food is a tricky one for me. I generally feel better when I’m eating well. Physically, because I’m giving my body the fuel and nutrients it needs but also mentally because I’m being ‘good’. The problem is that chocolate makes me happy in the short term. But then I feel bad and disappointed in myself afterwards.
Luckily, the increased amount of activities lets me get away with eating a bit of chocolate - and this is why I’ll never be super skinny no matter how active I am :)
And then there is the ocean. I don’t know what it is but just seeing the ocean makes me feel calmer and happier. This is nothing new, even back in Auckland I would get a little high every time I saw the ocean – which is often given the city is surrounded by oceans.
That’s maybe the best thing about the past eight weeks, the amount of time I’ve been able to spend by the ocean. It’s hard not to be happy when you wake up in the morning looking out over a beautiful beach onto the ocean :)
It’s great to have this awareness of what impacts my mood and especially what makes me happy. It’s even better that I have the flexibility right now to design my life around it. But even if you don’t get to live a life or freedom right now, there are probably little changes you could make, to create a better life - if you would know what makes you feel happy or sad.
I’m forced to face my emotions and moods right now because I don’t have a busy life to distract me from them. But I think almost everyone could benefit from paying a bit more attention to what impacts your mood and in what way. So maybe try to pay a bit more attention to yours :)