By Melissa Howard
Do you ever notice how stepping outdoors instantly calms you? It’s not all in your head. The effects of nature on our mental state have been well studied, and the results have encouraged a boom in nature-based approaches to healing.
According to Ask the Scientists, nature is a natural stress reliever. When you spend time outdoors, your cortisol levels — that’s the stress hormone — drop measurably and remain lowered for several days. Time in nature also reduces your blood pressure and heart rate, promoting a sense of calm and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
This is great news for people in addiction recovery. When you’re in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, managing your stress is paramount. And the simpler your stress management strategy, the more likely you are to follow through on it, rather than letting yourself get overwhelmed and risking a relapse.
Simply going on a walk is enough to reap the benefits of time outdoors, especially if you can get out of an urban environment and find a truly natural setting. However, that’s not the only way to spend time outdoors. Here are five outdoor activities you can try for a mental health boost:
1. Do Yoga Outdoors
As a form of meditation and physical training, yoga is a powerful tool for people recovering from a substance use disorder. Pair it with nature by doing your yoga routine outdoors, and you can double-up on the stress-relieving, sobriety-strengthening benefits. YogiApproved recommends 10 poses to get you started.
2. Go Mountain Biking
If you like your outdoors with a hint of adventure, give mountain biking a try. Whether you take it easy on a laid-back trail or get an adrenaline surge on steep inclines, you’ll get a full-body workout and a clearer state of mind. The right bike is key to a safe and comfortable mountain biking experience, so do your research to find the best bike for your budget and always wear protective gear when you ride.
3. Take a Backpacking Trip
The longer you spend in nature, the greater the benefits to your mental state, suggests University of Utah neuroscientist David Strayer. As REI reports, Strayer has noted what he calls “the three-day effect,” a noticeable boost in cognition that happens after three days of immersion in nature. So while a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood is good, backpacking over a long weekend is even better.
4. Start Trail Running
Running is a popular activity for people in recovery, but you don’t have to stick to city streets. Running on nature trails is better for your joints and your mind, and it spares you the boredom of running the same route around the neighborhood day after day. Find a quiet trail and pick up a pair of high-quality trail running shoes to log some miles.
5. Start a Garden
You don’t need to be in shape for high-intensity activities in order to enjoy the outdoors. For a quality outdoor time at a slower pace, start a garden. Whether you grow food or grow ornamentals, you’ll enjoy hands-on contact with nature, including serotonin-boosting soil microbes. Starting a garden also gives you a sense of purpose, which is important for people in recovery.
When you’re recovering from an addiction, you need opportunities to get out of your head and into the world. Spending time in nature is a wonderful way to do just that, but you don’t need to sign up for a nature retreat or spend a week forest bathing to reap the therapeutic benefits. By pursuing active hobbies and finding little ways to incorporate time outdoors into your days, you can strengthen your body, your mind, and your sobriety.
Depression, sadness, anxiety disorders, stress, and worry can make it difficult to find happiness in your life. We all need support at different times in our lives. Most of my clients seek help when their current way of dealing with life’s challenges no longer works for them. With a caring, non-judgmental and solution-focused approach, we will explore your issues and challenges in a safe therapeutic environment at my private practice in Delray Beach, Florida.
I also offer remote online therapy from the comfort and security of home that will allow you to learn more effective ways of managing your anxiety and stress.
Let’s walk the path to freedom from depression and anxiety together. If you’re ready to let go of the sadness, depression, fears, worries, and anxieties that are making life difficult, check out my Anxiety & Depression Support Group hosted the 1st Tuesday of each month at my private practice.