What Is ‘Extreme Wilding’ And How Can It Affect Your Mental Health?
Sometimes, our digital lives can produce so much stress that simply running away seems like the best possible option. However, with digital technologies forming the essence of how we function, work, and interact with other people, is ‘running away’ even possible anymore?
The short answer is yes, it absolutely is. To avoid participating in the proverbial rat race, some people may decide that living off the grid is the only logical response to their daily stresses and anxieties. This process is typically called ‘wilding’ or ‘rewilding’ and involves placing as much distance between oneself and civilization as comfortably possible.
In some cases, people are willing to as far as to live in completely uninhabited areas and maintain as few links with digital civilization as possible, a process known as ‘extreme wilding’. Can extreme wilding really benefit one’s mental health? This article intends to find out.
Is Extreme Wilding Difficult?
In short, yes, very. Accounts of extreme wilding typically do not paint a rosy picture of spending one’s time in a cosy outdoor cottage or merrily tending to one’s garden.
Instead, people engaging in extreme wilding prefer to lack any sort of accommodation and live as close to nature as possible. Typically, this means temporarily living in forests, caves, and other natural habitats. To sleep and protect themselves, it may still be possible to build rudimentary shelters.
In turn, this means that engaging in extreme wilding means exposing oneself to the elements, whatever they may be. This is not to mention the dangers posed by the local wildlife. In severe cases, extreme wilding may mean constantly protecting oneself from scorpions, predatory birds and insects.
So far, extreme wilding does not seem all that appealing. Instead, living off the grid is a major challenge that can appear daunting even if you consider yourself a skilled outdoorsman. So why do some people consider it beneficial to one’s mental health?
Extreme Wilding as an Escape From the Always-On Society
Let’s briefly consider a simple question. When was the last time you lived truly offline without the overwhelming presence of gadgets and digital noise? Even when not required by work, it can be nearly impossible to disconnect oneself from the always-on society. There is always more news to read, more skills to improve, and more trivia to learn.
In turn, being in an always-on environment can be incredibly damaging to one’s mental health. Digital media can expose us to negative, concerning or anxiety-reducing information whether we want them to or not. Being constantly digitally active can also take its toll on how rooted you are ‘in the moment’ which, subsequently, can lead to catastrophization and low moods.
For some people, going ‘all in’ and fully disconnecting oneself from the always-on society is the only solution that works. From this perspective, extreme wilding is…well, an extreme solution to an extreme problem. Sure, living off the grid may seem like an overreaction. Nevertheless, if you have ever caught yourself ‘doomscrolling’ or catastrophising, it can be easy to empathise with people wanting to reconnect with nature.
Extreme Wilding as a Remedy to Burnout
Burnout is definitely a candidate for one of the most significant mental health ‘epidemics’ of our time. Throughout the pandemic, it was challenging to find workers whose sense of professional self-value has not been shattered by global events. Even post-pandemic, burnout constitutes a lingering threat both to employers and to employees.
Burnout typically occurs owing to a growing disconnect between one’s needs and your daily activities. If you continuously feel that what you are doing for a living lacks meaning, it can be incredibly challenging (if not impossible) to find the mental strength to soldier on. Global events can exacerbate this problem by highlighting that our efforts could be small or insignificant compared to worldwide calamities.
Sure, extreme wilding cannot remedy any global catastrophes or eliminate burnout altogether. However, living closer to nature can provide people with a very powerful incentive for reevaluating how they see the world. Finance- or work-related problems may start to feel small when you are building your own shelter or planning your meals in highly uncertain conditions.
Extreme Wilding as a Facilitator of Good Sleep
There is no question that our constant use of gadgets can strongly challenge the way we sleep. This is especially true for those who like to spend time on social media right before going to bed. ‘Doomscrolling’ and other obsessive behaviours can disrupt our circadian rhythms and lower sleep quality.
The human body, nonetheless, is organically tuned to restore sleep quality in the right environment. When possible, sleep quality can be greatly improved by limiting the use of gadgets before bed, purchasing and installing heavy blinds or investing in a quality sleep mask.
Exposing oneself to the natural circadian cycle by sleeping beneath an open sky can produce a similarly beneficial effect. In fact, studies show that even showing pictures of the wilderness to humans can produce noticeable improvements to sleep quality.
However, sleeping in the wild also carries significant risks. Many predatory animals are nocturnal, meaning that night is the time when wildlife could pose a significant threat to one’s safety or the safety of one’s shelter. Additionally, as weather can change on a whim, sleeping safety may require the construction of especially hardy shelters able to weather the elements.
While extreme wilding constitutes a fascinating phenomenon, we cannot recommend it as a method of self-therapy to anyone without some serious outdoor training. Sure, sleeping beneath the stars and being closer to nature may sound incredibly romantic and fulfilling but extreme wilding carries significant risks that should not be ignored in any circumstance. At the same time, engaging in relatively safe outdoor activities (e.g., hiking) may provide similar benefits to one’s mental health without introducing any unnecessary threats to individual well-being. Watching or reading about extreme wilding may be entertaining but participating in it should only be considered after some serious deliberation.
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