Karsten, a volunteer firefighter from Germany is on a 5 year long journey around Europe for Mental Health Awareness. He’s been walking for over 10 months now since he left home, and he was in Aberystwyth, Wales just a couple of weeks ago! Karsten was suffering with poor mental health until he decided it was time to make a change and… start walking with his four legged companion Lotte! 2500 miles, 8 countries, hundreds of conversations with people he met on the way…

But let’s talk about the inspirational lessons Karsten learned that helped his mental health during this project and how we can all learn from those.

Karsten and Karolina at the Aberystwyth Fire Station

1. Change happens when you put yourself out there

‘When you do something outside of the box, people don’t expect that – maybe they want to do something interesting, but they are scared. By going ahead and doing that, you inspire them.’

What an inspirational reminder, and it’s true – we impact other people, and we forget that a lot! By doing his project, Karsten is inviting us to get out of our stale routine, change our outlook, mix things up a bit! And by putting yourself out there and doing something other than ordinary, YOU can do the same.

2. There is so much more kindness around you than you think

‘My project is not for charity – it’s for building awareness and conversations with people I meet on the way. I have been offered accommodation and help with any breakdowns immediately – kindness is everywhere!’ 

When we struggle with mental health, we tend to isolate ourselves from the world. We are likely to be in a survival mode, which puts connection at the bottom of your body’s priority list. When we are in survival mode, we look for threats around us so we can protect ourselves better. That makes us underestimate the support we can receive from other people. 

This is a reminder that: 

  • It’s OK to reach out
  • You are not alone
  • Everyone is facing something you have no idea about – it’s more likely you will be understood than not!

3. Only focus on the next step if the journey is overwhelming

‘If you can’t see the destination, but can only see the next step – take it! The following step will present itself’.

Aren’t we familiar with overwhelm… Sometimes our goals seem to be so big and so distant, we cannot possibly imagine achieving them! In turn, we may give up altogether. Karsten is reminding you that a long journey is just a series of small steps! 

Here are some tips on how to make your goal less overwhelming:

  • Break down your goal into many small steps
  • Focus on what you can do RIGHT NOW to get closer to what you want
  • Just do one thing, even if it’s the smallest! This may help get you going if you are feeling low.

Karsten en route to Wales

4. Focus only on what you can control

‘Make a list of everything that can happen and eliminate the things that are outside of your control. It’s out of your hands, so just do what you can!’

As humans, we take too much responsibility sometimes – for ourselves, for others, for what can happen in our day. Remember, there’s only so much you can control!

What is in your control:

  • Your behaviour
  • Your mindset
  • How you treat others
  • How you respond to different situations.

What is outside of your control:

  • How others behave or treat you
  • Others’ perceptions of you
  • Natural events
  • Passage of time
  • Your past

The world is unpredictable… In this whirlwind of surprises, you still have agency over yourself! Use what is in YOUR control and let go of the rest.

5. Don’t take anything for granted

‘I sometimes sleep rough just to appreciate things – it has been too easy for me to have a roof over my head overnight because everyone is just so accommodating!’

What a time to be alive in this world – we have survived, and continue to witness and survive a lot… This reminder from Karsten hits harder today – we do have so much. There is so much to be grateful for! 

Here is a little gratitude exercise you can do right now. Think about or write down:

  1. One thing you are grateful for (that you saw or witnessed randomly today)
  2. One thing you are grateful for (that you did!)
  3. One person you are grateful for today. 

6. Expect the unexpected

‘I walk 12-15 miles every day. How do I keep myself motivated, when I know that I will have to do that every single day for 5 years? I remember there’s going to be something surprising on the way’

Every day is a new opportunity and this is something we, again, take for granted sometimes. 

Remember, today is a day you may:

  • Meet someone new
  • Learn something new
  • See something surprising
  • Connect in a way you haven’t connected
  • Make someone’s day.

As I am writing this, Karsten is somewhere in Liverpool, inspiring other people and sparking interesting conversations about mental health and more. Please follow his journey on @muetze_on_tour !