Finding Solitude On The Camino Best Times And Places For Peaceful Walking

With stress, anxiety, and depression levels continuing to rise – in Ireland but also across the world – taking good care of our mental health has never been more important.

There are countless quick fixes out there that promise to soothe our increasingly frantic minds, but quick fixes rarely address root causes. Walking or doing exercise and getting out into nature are two of the most beneficial activities you can do to help your mental health, and yet, too many of us pass them over with only the briefest of thoughts.

But what if we could combine walking with nature and include a large dollop of travel, another activity shown to do wonders for the human mind? This article explores seven potential mental health benefits of walking the Camino de Santiago, looking at historical context, personal testimonies, and scientific insights.

1. Stress Reduction and Enhanced Mood

The act of walking, particularly in nature, is a powerful antidote to stress. The Camino de Santiago, with its diverse landscapes ranging from the Pyrenees’ majestic peaks from Stage 1 to Galicia’s lush forests seen in the Final Stage before arriving in Santiago , provides an ideal setting for nature-based stress relief.

The rhythmic nature of walking helps to calm the mind, reducing levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Additionally, the exposure to natural light and the physical activity involved in the walk can significantly boost mood, combating symptoms of anxiety and depression through the release of endorphins, known as the body’s natural ‘feel-good’ chemicals.

The Camino And Mental Health 7 Potential Benefits

2. Mindfulness and Presence

Mindfulness has become a buzzword these days – everybody’s talking about it – but what does it actually mean? Essentially it’s simply about focusing on the here and now and not letting our mind spin off into the past or future. It’s about enjoying the small joys in life and taking nothing for granted.

The Camino encourages a state of mindfulness. Anybody who has walked for days on end will know that eventually, your mind starts to clear, and you begin to notice the world around you in ways you didn’t before.

The simplicity of the daily routine—walking, eating, sleeping—allows for a break from the constant input and demands of modern life. This environment fosters a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings and inner experiences, promoting a sense of peace and contentment. The act of walking becomes a meditative practice, where each step can help anchor the mind in the present, reducing stress and worry.

3. Emotional Healing and Reflection

People walk the Camino for various reasons, but you’ll always find many walking as a way of helping with emotional healing and reflection. It’s not uncommon to come across pilgrims who have been through trauma, experiencing grief or divorce, or simply feeling lost and searching for a new direction in life. We have recently launched a Camino self-guided walk with Ireland’s first hiking psychotherapist, a truly memorable experience that combines the beauty of walking with a chance to open up and share.

The solitude of the walk, combined with the support of others on the path, creates a unique environment that often allows for introspection and emotional release. The physical challenge of the Camino helps develop the emotional resilience required to navigate life’s hardships, providing a metaphorical journey through one’s personal struggles towards a state of acceptance and renewal. We can’t always guarantee that you’ll find what you’re looking for on the Camino, but many others have.

4. Personal Growth and Self-Discovery

Walking the Camino de Santiago challenges individuals physically, emotionally, and even spiritually in some cases. Sadly, we live in an era where hard things are often dismissed simply because they’re hard to do. We want our lives to be as easy and streamlined as possible, but the problem is this leaves very little room for self-discovery and personal growth.

Walkers often emerge from the Camino with a clearer sense of identity, purpose, and personal values. There’s something about walking 100km, 200km, or even 800km that forces you to look deep in that mirror at the face looking back at you. Who are you really? And what are you really capable of when you put your mind to it?

Walking long distances requires resilience, perseverance, and adaptability, contributing to stronger self-confidence and self-belief. This transformative experience can lead to significant life changes and a reevaluation of one’s goals, relationships, and priorities.

Finding Solitude On The Camino Best Times And Places For Peaceful Walking

5. Social Connection and a Sense of Belonging

The Camino de Santiago is renowned for its strong sense of community and camaraderie among walkers. This social aspect can be incredibly beneficial for mental health, offering a sense of belonging and support. While backgrounds, situations, and health will all vary, when it comes to being out on the Camino, it’s easy to feel a close bond and companionship with your fellow walkers.

Sharing the journey with individuals from diverse backgrounds, yet united by a common purpose, fosters deep connections and friendships. These social interactions can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation, providing emotional support and a shared understanding of the challenges and triumphs along the way.

Even if you feel like you need to get away from everything and simply want to walk on your own for a week, having somebody to share a glass of wine and a meal within the evening can make a huge difference.

6. Achievement and Accomplishment

Within children, we always aim to foster a strong sense of achievement and accomplishment, but often this gets completely lost in adults. The mundane hurdles of life tend to get in the way, and it’s easy to forget about the huge benefits that come with setting your mind to something difficult and completing it.

Completing a section of Camino de Santiago – or even the whole thing – is a significant achievement, providing a profound sense of accomplishment. This sense of achievement can bolster self-esteem and confidence, contributing to a more positive self-image.

It’s not always going to be easy, and gritting it out at times will be down to your strength, resilience, and determination, qualities that can be applied to future challenges in life. This accomplishment can also serve as a powerful reminder of your ability to overcome obstacles, fostering a more optimistic outlook on life.

7. Reconnection with Nature and Simplicity

Smartphones, TVs, iPads, smartwatches, and computers – we live in a world where digital technology dominates our lives. This has dramatically changed society, but not always in a good way. Obesity levels have skyrocketed, thanks largely to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, while addiction to social media is having a catastrophic effect on mental health.

Sometimes, we need to step back from it all, and the Camino offers a rare opportunity to disconnect and reconnect with the natural world. This reconnection with nature can have a grounding effect, reminding us of life’s simple pleasures and the beauty of the natural environment. It’s all about the small, tangible things in life; eating a delicious ice cream in a beautiful Spanish plaza on a hot day after a long walk, trailing your hand through fields of barley, standing at the top of a hill gazing out at the world.

The simplicity of life on the Camino—carrying only what is necessary, focusing on basic needs—can lead to a greater appreciation for simplicity and a more mindful approach to consumption and lifestyle choices.

The Camino for Better Mental Health

The Camino de Santiago provides an astonishing experience with the potential to significantly benefit mental health and well-being. Through stress reduction, mindfulness, emotional healing, personal growth, social connection, a sense of accomplishment, and reconnection with nature, the journey offers a holistic approach to mental health.

While the Camino is not a substitute for professional mental health care, it can serve as a powerful complement to traditional therapies, offering a unique space for reflection, healing, and growth. People have walked the Camino for more than 1000 years, and it has often been about soothing the mind and searching for inner peace. We can’t recommend it enough. Lace-up your boots, strap on that pack, and start walking.

Click to find out which are the best walking shoes for El Camino de Santiago.

The Camino And Mental Health 7 Potential Benefits