Student's Meditative Meander Stops Stress

Sarah Urban strolls through South University neighborhood. Photo by Charlie Litchfield, University Communications

I can make my way through Allen Hall with my eyes closed. Nine back-to-back hours of class in one building and a job on the third floor—yeah, I don’t get out much. On a good day, one of my classes will be released early and I’ll run toward the door with a primal urgency.

By 5:00 p.m. I am zonked and itching for fresh air. The walk from campus to my house in the South University neighborhood just isn’t enough. I swing the front door open and drop my backpack and jacket in a heap, then head back outside to decompress. No phone and nothing demanding my attention.

I call these nightly escapes my “block walks.” I move my feet forward, following a route of circles and squares and loop-de-loops around the neighborhood, and it is glorious.

I pass manicured lawns, little free libraries, and cars that haven’t been moved from their spots on the street in months. My favorite route begins on East 23rd Avenue, before taking a right onto Potter Street. The colors of the houses are tasteful and front yard landscapes are top-notch. One house has dainty rose bushes that make my heart swoon; nearby, a yard overflows with ferns.

Kids zoom past on bikes; dads tend to their yards. I stop on the corner to watch the “golden hour” wash over the street and trees. I think about my to-do list that never seems to end. I swat that thought away.

Being alone with your thoughts can be unsettling—there is that thing that you’ve been trying really hard not to think about, and what if it creeps up? You can face it, or you can just start naming everything you see in front of you in an effort to distract your brain. Both are viable options. But I’ve found that if you give your mind room to flow and operate without the input of whatever is buzzing on the screen in front of you, you won’t be sorry.

This habit of mine—block walks—has been the single greatest source of my inspiration as a writer and journalist. When I am alone and unplugged, my mind has space to absorb what is around me and access ideas that were previously trapped under my mental queue of texts I need to respond to. More than inspiration, the simple, slow, and steady practice of putting one foot in front of the other undoubtedly reduces my stress.

After a long day, walking can seem like the last thing you want to do. It’s boring or weird or an activity for middle-aged people. In fact, you might have just spent all day walking around campus—you don’t want to keep going. But I’m telling you it’s a good idea. The cold air has a way of clearing your mind. When you take a deep breath and your lungs swell with oxygen, every part of you is reminded how alive you are—alive and far from the sound of a professor reminding you of a looming due date.

No matter how far I go, I always try to make my way home walking east on East 22nd Avenue. There are plenty of houses in the South University area that are worth dreaming about, but the ones on 22nd are the kind I keep coming back to. I take in the beauty as I walk, and drink up the silence I know will cease soon. I’m almost home.

—By Sarah Urban, journalism major and member of the Class of 2019