It's up us to resolve our struggles and also improve our overall well-being. Spending intentional, concerted time in nature is one of these healing methods, and when we consciously, mindfully give ourselves this time, we can be surprised at how much better we feel. We can feel mentally sharper, clearer and more alive. Some of the exhaustion, brain fog and grogginess we suffer from can be alleviated. We can feel ourselves naturally, miraculously, gravitating away from our drugs of choice and lifting our depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. What are some of the many healing benefits of being in nature, and how can we take advantage of them?
Many of us have a hard time finding time to be alone. Our busy lives are usually occupied by a lot of interpersonal interaction. Some of us struggle with resistance to being alone. We fear being alone with our difficult thoughts and emotions. We feel especially sad and lonely when we're alone, particularly if we're away from our partner or not in a relationship, and we feel incomplete, unworthy and like we're not good enough when we're alone. Being in nature can inspire us to give ourselves more time for solitude and to learn to appreciate being alone. When we're surrounded by the beauty of nature, we can find that it lifts our spirits and takes away the emotional pain that can come with loneliness. We can find comfort and solace, as well as a feeling of companionship, from the natural world around us.
2. Stillness and Space
When we allow ourselves time for solitude, we give ourselves much needed stillness and space. We get a break from the commotion of life, from our rigorous demanding routines, from our busy schedules. We can get so overwhelmed by our everyday lives, and this can contribute to our stress, our depression, and our anxiety. We sometimes will use our drugs of choice to cope with the stress of our daily lives. We rarely give ourselves a break. Nature allows us to find the internal stillness and space we need. We learn how to be at peace with being still. Some of us have a very hard time being still, and we find ourselves constantly fidgeting, feeling anxious or even panicking if we have to be still for too long. Being in nature can give us the calming, nurturing environment and beautiful scenery to inspire us to cultivate inner stillness and spaciousness.
3. Dropping the Distractions
Many of us are constantly being distracted from our inner selves and our thoughts, by television, social media, our relationships, our demanding work lives, our many obligations. Many of us want to avoid thinking about our difficult emotions and life experiences because they feel too painful to confront. We distract ourselves with anything we can find, the usual suspects of keeping ourselves busy, overworking ourselves, clinging to relationships, scrolling on the internet, or using our drugs of choice. We rely on our distractions as means of self-medicating, to forget what it is that is causing us pain. We feel like anything, no matter how toxic, is better than being forced to confront the issues that are bothering us and fueling our unwellness. We feel unable to cope with our emotions. We fear letting ourselves feel them will break us down, and we won't be able to survive them. Being in nature, though, invites us to step away from all of our distractions and immerse ourselves in a deeper connection with our inner selves. We get some much-needed quiet time. Many of us feel as though our hearts, souls and spirits have a chance to emerge when we're in nature, away from the distractions of technology, other people and modern life. We're given the opportunity to connect with ourselves as part of our quest for natural beauty, and we see our own natural beauty even more as a result.
When we're always filling up our minds and hearts with distraction tactics, we tend to have a very hard time with personal reflection and introspection. We don't want to look at ourselves. We resist learning and growing, because we're afraid to change. We don't want to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Because nature is so powerfully inspiring, it can help motivate us to look within and do the very important soul-searching required for healing. When we're surrounded by the quiet, peaceful wonder of the natural world, we can find ourselves feeling automatically more in tune, more connected and more aligned with ourselves, which promotes self-exploration. We begin to ask ourselves the tough questions. We start to look at our pain and confront it head on. Being in nature can help facilitate the important soul-searching part of the recovery journey.
5. Finding Peace in Our Relationships
When tense relationship dynamics threaten our mental and emotional health, we often feel as though we have nowhere to turn. We don't know how to solve our problems, and we obsess about them, replaying the issues over and over again in our minds. We might try to remember every detail of an argument we had with a loved one. We might find ourselves unable to relax until the issue is resolved. The stress, tension and conflict within our relationships are some of the biggest contributing factors to our unwellness. When we spend time in nature, we're reminded that the natural state of things is one of harmony, peace, cooperation and coexistence. We can be inspired by the tranquility that surrounds us. We can find ourselves feeling instantly calmer by observing the trees or watching the sky. We feel more at peace, more at ease, and better able to handle the complex issues in our lives. We can take these increased feelings of wellness and apply them to our relationships. We can apply the principles of alignment, balance and groundedness to the relationship dynamics we're struggling with. We can choose to prioritize conflict resolution, mindful listening, harmonious relationship-building and peace-keeping, all skills we can find ourselves learning and absorbing from our time in nature.
6. Learning Personal Development
The natural world isn't just beautiful to look at, it's also capable of teaching us powerful, life-changing lessons. We can learn to cultivate so many important qualities from observing the natural world: inner peace, calm, ease, grace, dignity. We might find that by spending more time in nature, we begin to move through the world a little more gracefully. We might become less reactive when things are challenging. We might find our problems a little easier to solve, and our emotions a little easier to navigate. We might start to be gentler with ourselves, showing ourselves more compassion, patience and understanding. The natural world is full of grace and wonder, and as sentient beings, we are an extension of it. We can find our behaviors, our ways of thinking, even how we conduct our lives shifting in response to our deepened connection with nature.
7. Physical Health Outcomes
Some of the benefits of spending time in nature are the physical effects we receive. When we expose ourselves to the natural world, we can produce better health outcomes for ourselves by reducing our blood pressure, as well as slowing down and balancing our heart rates. We can improve our breathing, muscle tension and chronic physical pain. We also slow down the production of stress hormones, which helps us not only to feel less stressed in the moment but to also handle stress more effectively in the future. Being in nature, therefore, can be a helpful preventive measure in combating some of the physical ills that plague us.
8. Vitamin D and Depression
Many of us who suffer from depression, especially in the cold winter months, are deficient in vitamin D. Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, and vitamin deficiency are linked in many people. We don't produce nearly enough vitamin D when we're not exposed to enough sunlight. During the winter, it is recommended that we take a supplement or eat vitamin D-rich foods, but we shouldn't let the cold weather keep us from trying to absorb the sunlight we do get, because while we might produce less vitamin D in the winter, we can still produce some. Take a walk on sunny winter days and let your skin soak in the beautiful rays of the sun. You might find that your mood suddenly lifts and that you feel more cheerful. Give yourself another reason to spend more time in nature – offsetting or helping to alleviate your symptoms of depression.
9. Negative Ions from Water
There are biochemical and environmental reasons why we feel so happy when we're at the beach, beyond it being fun! Ocean air is charged with healthy negative ions that facilitate and accelerate our bodies' ability to absorb oxygen. The more oxygen we take in, the healthier we feel. In addition, these negative ions also help our bodies to balance their levels of serotonin, one of the important chemicals linked to mood, happiness and our ability to cope with stress.
When we're in nature and immersed in clean, fresh air, we're naturally inspired to breathe more deeply and to focus on our breathing intentionally and mindfully. More oxygen is being supplied to our brains, and we feel calmer and more carefree as a result. There is a reason why we say to take a deep breath when we're feeling anxious, panicked, reactive or stressed out. When we're in this state, our oxygen and carbon dioxide levels get out of balance, and we unknowingly exacerbate our tension and fear by breathing rapid, shallow, incomplete breaths. When we take deeper breaths, we correct these chemical imbalances. We feel more at ease, more at peace and much happier.
Grounding and earthing practices are techniques we can use to help ground ourselves when we feel uncentered, lost, scattered and overwhelmed. When we ground ourselves, we root ourselves in the power of the natural world and benefit from our restored connection to it. We can ground ourselves by walking barefoot on the ground, lying on the sand or grass, hugging trees, using crystals, or holding stones. When we practice grounding, we can drastically reduce our inflammation and stress levels, helping us to respond to our stresses, traumas and life challenges with more ease and calm.
Many of us avoid exercise because we think it needs to be strenuous in order for us to reap the benefits, or because we avoid gyms because of their competitiveness, drab interiors and stale air. Nature gives us wide-open spaces with beautiful surroundings and fresh air to exercise, where we feel healthier just by taking a deep breath. When we exercise, we give ourselves a natural lift in our mood. We're getting our hearts pumping and our limbs moving which can make us feel lighter and happier. We help ourselves interrupt the patterns of stagnancy and inactivity that contribute to our depression and anxiety. We often will feel better immediately after exercising or the following day. This is in part because we're increasing our body's levels of dopamine, one of the chemicals associated with happiness and stress reduction.
13. Socializing and Relationship-Building
Spending time in nature gives us the opportunity to do something new and fun with friends, like taking a hike, going swimming, sailing or canoeing, or just observing the wildlife. We can organize a group event like a hike or a soccer game. We can plan an outing to the beach. When we socialize and become more active, we get out of our patterns of isolating ourselves and staying indoors, both of which can exacerbate our depression and anxiety. We can forge new relationships and strengthen our existing ones by finding positive, exciting things to do together. When we feel more adventurous, we often feel more excited about life. The happier and more active we are, the better equipped we are to tackle our mental illnesses and addictions.
14. Healthy Distraction From Our Drugs of Choice
The more we engage in healthy activities such as ones we can do outdoors, the less time and energy we have for our drugs of choice. We can find ourselves feeling less tempted and triggered by them. We can feel stronger and more empowered to make healthy choices. We're bolstering our well-being by being in nature, and we don't want to undo the important work we're doing or set ourselves back by giving into our drugs of choice. In this way, nature can be a powerful deterrent to our addictions. We're becoming more committed to our health and incorporating nature into our wellness routines. Spending time in nature can become one of our healthy distractions from our drugs of choice, a powerful alternative to our patterns of self-destructing.
15. Positivity and Creativity
Being in nature can help us to develop a more positive outlook in our lives, which can help us to be more hopeful, optimistic and resilient when facing the huge life challenges of mental illness and addiction. When we're outside in nature, the part of our brain associated with negative thinking called the prefrontal cortex becomes less active. When we're in this state, we're more inclined to think positively and to express our creativity. We can bring a journal with us on nature outings to help ourselves reflect, a notebook to work on a song or poem, or a drawing book to do some painting, coloring, sketching or drawing. We can use the beautiful scenery around us as inspiration for our creations.
16. Calmness, Alertness and Energy
When we're in nature, we use our different senses to explore in more depth what we're experiencing. Our senses are heightened. We're using our sense of smell to experience the flowers. We're using our sight to behold the wonder we're taking in. We listen to the sound of the wind in the trees and the birds chirping. Our sense of touch is heightened when we are mindful of feeling the sun on our skin, hugging a tree, or feeling the ground beneath us. When our senses are enhanced and tuned in in these ways, our brains emit more alpha waves, which can make us both calmer and more alert. We're more perceptive of the world around us, while also feeling more at ease, more grounded, centered, stable and at peace. This can help to restore some of the depleted energy we lose to our busy, hectic lifestyles. It can make us feel more energized, more motivated and more enthusiastic, not just at that moment but in our everyday lives. When we're calmer, more alert and have more energy, we're able to tackle our challenges more easily. We feel even more clarity. We might find ourselves getting through the work day a little easier, and even enjoying our day to day schedules when beforehand we might have felt more lethargic and fatigued.
17. Strength and Resilience
As we observe the natural world, we're reminded of our inner strength and resilience. We see the trees standing firmly, rooted and grounded, and we can be inspired to summon our own strength and courage. We see them lose their leaves but come back year after year, not only surviving the harsh winter but thriving the following spring. We too can be resilient. We can be reminded of our ancestors' connection to the earth, as many cultures were strongly tied to the natural world, to the seasons and phases of the moon, to the times of harvest and rest. We can bring some of those practices back and reclaim those traditions, for example by incorporating time in nature into our spiritual practice by using natural elements like petrified wood for stability and groundedness, and working with crystals with different properties to enhance our well-being.
WinGate Wilderness Therapy is a premier wilderness therapy program for troubled teens and young adults. We offer hope and healing.
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P.O. Box 347
Kanab, UT 84741