12-MINUTE READ

A Conversation on the Traditions of Going Off-Grid

With people looking to camp, go back to basics and escape to a 'simple wilderness' more and more since lockdown, we delve into the age-old use of camping and escaping into nature as a means of switching off

Ever wondered why the nostalgic tradition of camping makes you feel instantly calm, content and in a different frame of mind? The same applies to our modern versions of the age-old tradition, and taking ourselves off-grid in cabins away from the pressures of everyday life is being proven to improve moods and help people to switch off (we’re even part of a new study exploring exactly this, which we’ll keep you updated on the results of as they come in!). Throughout the last year, while everyone found a way to deal with life in and out of lockdown, millions of people turned to camping in their gardens (and back out in the wild when allowed) to create a sense of excitement, escapism and of taking things back to basics. Camping and outdoor stores even reported a huge increase in people's interest in the pastime throughout lockdown and, particularly, a surge in demand for family camping equipment. Essentially, people have found a new kind of simplicity throughout the ongoing pandemic, and research shows that many people are yearning to take this forward and continue seeing the beauty in stripping things back. 



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It’s perhaps not wholly surprising. After all, attentional restoration theory (ART) first proposed by Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) has long been claiming that urban environments over-capture our attention and cause people to suffer from excess stimulation. In contrast, natural environments utilise our soft fascination mode as humans, where our attention is held subconsciously by a less active or stimulating activity. Natural settings don’t pull at our attention relentlessly and, instead, calm our minds and allow for quiet observation without conscious thought.



But, is there more to it than the connection with the outside world? What really is the positive psychology behind camping and getting out on the road with only the basics - why exactly is it so powerful in aiding wellbeing? When you’re camping or staying off-grid out in the middle of nowhere, you are given the opportunity and essentially forced into a situation whereby you directly connect with the natural world around you. Our digital and over-consumed lives have removed a layer of protection for the mind against psychological stress by taking us away from nature, so immersing ourselves back within it, in the purest way possible, builds this protection back up. It's simply about taking your focus elsewhere, away from the relentlessness and chronic overload of everyday life, and embracing silence. Quietness, compared to the noise we immerse ourselves in nowadays is actually remarkably easy to find.



'It's simply about taking your focus elsewhere, away from the relentlessness and chronic overload of everyday life, and embracing silence. Quietness, compared to the noise we immerse ourselves in nowadays is actually remarkably easy to find'

But it’s not all about natural connection either. It’s about freedom and pushing usual boundaries too, and stepping outside of the mundanity and predictability of life’s routines. Positive Psychologist and Camping in the Forest Ambassador Miriam Akhtar says: ‘Going camping is a form of wilderness therapy [...] It delivers one of our fundamental needs for wellbeing – that of autonomy.  ‘It gives us the freedom during our time off to be able to wake up and find our own adventures, without limits. This sense of freedom is rarely found in our daily lives, whether through work pressure or the chores at home. Even when going to a hotel for your holiday you don’t have the complete freedom that camping has to do your own thing. When we sleep outside, under the stars or camping, it’s as though we press the reset button and we are more present to what’s around us, pulling our thoughts away from the stresses of modern life.’ 



Off-grid living improves our ability to engage with meaning and in meaningful actions which, in turn, boosts happiness and feelings of contentment. Media and technology, alongside a lack of deeper meaning in everyday life, can leave us feeling disillusioned and disconnected from ourselves. Living off-grid changes this, and gifts us the opportunity to practice self-responsibility, resourcefulness, and quiet contemplation with our inner self.



There’s a power in nostalgia and tradition, too, and for many people, camping and taking time out off-grid without the distraction of anything will take them back to a place in their childhood. Being immersed within a quiet and solitary environment and having to find ways to entertain yourself, take stock or relax into doing nothing is actually very reminiscent of being a child again. We’re far too used to having digital means to entertain ourselves constantly in the 21st century, so this can be an incredibly dynamic attribute to going off-grid. Remember, there’s beauty in being bored - we just never give ourselves the chance to be so in our heavily connected worlds. Letting your mind wander and fall into default mode can be incredibly soothing, as well as have the potential to lead to more clarity and a more imaginative thought process. In a recent Forbes feature, the author notes that: ‘Going on holiday makes you feel more present and stimulated. “When we travel we are usually breaking our normal routine,” says Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds. That means we can’t operate on autopilot. “That decreased familiarity is an opportunity for most people to be more fully present, to really wake up,” he says.’



In fact, according to a recent study in The Journal of Positive Psychology, going on holiday, taking time out and meditation are actually shown to have overlapping effects on our wellbeing. It’s a good job we’re straddling the two here at Unplugged, then, hey?



Time to Unplug?

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