How Living on a Boat Helps Me Understand Anxiety

Disclaimer: Feminine Boutique Blog and its associated contributors are not qualified mental health experts. Please take this post with a grain of salt, and consult a professional therapist in your local area. Remember, mental health is an essential part to living a healthy life – prioritize it!

You are trapped in a dark corner. You can’t remember if you got here of your own volition or not. All you know is that, surrounding you, are the worst demons you can imagine. They are so frightening that you can’t even muster the energy to try and fight them, so you keep your head down, hoping they leave you alone soon.

This is a (metaphorical) situation that many of us have already or will experience at some point in our lives. It isn’t fun, it ain’t pretty, and everyone can agree that these feelings suck. What feelings am I referring to specifically? Anxiety and depression, of course.

These are feelings that have plagued me ever since I can remember. Thankfully, I was able to go to therapy as a teenager and begin to learn and understand anxiety and depression. And even better, it has become mainstream to take care of our mental health – reducing the stigma around talking about these uncomfortable feelings. Now, I continue to deepen my knowledge – at least when it comes to my own experiences with anxiety and depression.

Some back story…

A few months ago, I went back to therapy to get a refresher on coping mechanisms that work, and resetting my mental state at the time. My therapist used a tool called ACT – and recommended reading the book, The Happiness Trap in between sessions. What I learned, paired with living on a boat day to day, has shifted my perceptions of anxiety and depression immensely!

Let’s start with what ACT stands for – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Essentially, it asks us to accept and embrace thoughts, feelings, and other unwanted (or wanted) thoughts. A lot of Western culture promotes controlling our thoughts and feelings – but that tends to create more anxiety and depression for us in the long-run. The second piece of ACT is getting in touch with our values (there is a whole set of worksheets for this), and committing to taking action on our values. This is actually how I made goals I’ll actually stick to for 2021.

The basis for this therapy style is that we actually compound our unwanted feelings by trying to make them go away. This is definitely true for me – when I notice I am anxious, rather than breathe through it, I tend to want to make it go away. And when I can’t make it go away, I get upset! And once I am upset, I get anxious about being anxious… and the cycle goes on. With ACT, I learned to feel the anxiety, let it hang out and stink up my mind, and didn’t fight or run from it. I feel a lot less anxious because of this.

What does boat life have to do with any of this?

Well, quite a lot. For me, living on a boat has increased my mental flexibility in more ways than one. A healthy mind is a flexible mind, which means that when faced with challenges, we can adjust and accept our situation. When you live on a boat, you are totally at the whim of Mother Nature and your vessel. There is quite a high degree of accepting situations, good or bad. On land, it is easy to tuck in and control your environment – everything from temperature to décor to storage. You can shut the windows and let storms rage outside and away from your comfort zone.

On a boat, you have to bear through the storm. You get to fall over onto the couch because the boat begins to tip precariously to one side. You get to put containers under leaky windows, because you can’t control when the sealant will start to crack. You stay aboard, both in order to stay out of the storm, but also to be ready to deal with the worst – whether it’s lightning taking out your electrical systems, or simply pumping out water from your vessel to prevent sinking.

Living on our little sailboat, I have learned so much about being flexible. I am terrified when the boat suddenly tips over to one side, anxious that we will damage our floating home. I get upset when another leak springs from the deck, angry that I didn’t seal it just right. But, in every situation, I have gotten better and better at simply accepting it. And this has bled into how I deal with the thoughts and feelings that arise in my own head.

If I can weather the storm and survive, then I can certainly do the same with my mind. I will make it through, and come out to see the sun shining again and again.

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