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How the Outdoors Benefit your Mental Health

It is important for every person to take care of their mental health, no matter who they are. Most people understand that being outdoors is good for them. When adding an active lifestyle to that, you are taking important steps to improve your physical and mental health. While research is still in the early stages, it is clear that outdoor therapy is beneficial. When you are in recovery, it helps to have a variety of activities for support.

According to a study published by the US National Library of Medicine, “Research to date has shown that nature exposure can provide a wide range of mental health benefits, related to…stress and anxiety, sleep, emotional stability, and self-perceived welfare or quality of life.”* Depression, stress, and anxiety can lead to substance abuse or can be newly developed as a result of drug use. Nature is not an instant fix, but it is a wonderful and calming way to help many of those symptoms.

Types of Outdoor Recreation

Nature is a place where we can feel free from a society that is often over-saturated with technology. In addition to spending time outside, it can be even better for your mental health when you engage in physical activities. The number of outdoor activities are vast and are frequently free or often very cheap. This variety and affordability allows for you to find different activities that work best for you.

Some of the many types of outdoor recreation include hiking, rock climbing, trail running, mountain biking, and camping. You can also walk along flat trails for an easier physical activity, while still enjoying the nature around you. With every type of outdoor activity, you can work your way up to more challenging levels. While your brain benefits from simply being outdoors, you will also feel a mental boost from what you are able to accomplish.

Skiing or snowboarding are outdoor activities that can provide an experience that is thrilling and can be challenging. One of the most famous national parks in the world, is the Grand Canyon here in Arizona. While you can hike for a challenge, even just going to visit it and walking along the rim can be an unbelievable experience. The ability to view the Grand Canyon will fill you with awe, provide a sense of peace, and may help you to feel connected with the earth.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.”

-John Muir

Another type of outdoor recreation is restoration and conservation volunteering. This is a way to help recover and preserve nature, which is especially important when it comes to the community you live in. Participating in this type of activity will help you learn, build social relationships, and feel a deep connection to the land around you. As our world becomes more urbanized, it is important that we engage in a serious effort to protect it.

Volunteering will help strengthen your community for support in your journey. It will also provide a sense of accomplishment that you are working on something much bigger than yourself. According to a study done in part by Rodlescia Sneed at Carnegie Mellon University, “Many people find volunteer work to be helpful with respect to stress reduction, and we know that stress is very strongly linked to health outcomes.”* When you are taking steps to reduce stress, you help ease any pressure on your overall health.

The Outdoors and Your Recovery

As previously stated, the great thing about outdoor recreation is the variety that you can choose from. This will help when it comes to cost, time, and level of difficulty. A California Parks Department study found, “Regular physical activity during recreation can reduce the severity of mental health disorders, enabling individuals to better cope with their daily lives.”* Physical exercise done outdoors is a great, and often free, resource to utilize.

 It is important to remember: none of this will be an instant fix. Still, it can help to alleviate symptoms and can help you cope with day-to-day life. It will never hurt to engage in behavior that strengthens your mental health. Of course, these activities also improve your physical health. This creates a positive cycle of getting your mental and physical health in a better place.

Addiction is a complex issue and maintaining sobriety is also complex. However, it is not impossible to maintain sobriety. It will take time, effort, and a community around you for support. Your journey may even involve failure or setbacks, but that is okay. Life is like that for everyone. When you engage in outdoor recreation, you are developing another tool as part of your continual journey in sobriety.

* California Parks & Rec – Health & Social
* NIH – Bringing Outdoor Therapies Into Mainstream Mental Health
* Harvard Health Publishing – Volunteering