Nature, the ultimate antidepressant: 10 ideas for getting outside | Lifestyles
One of our family’s favorite places is the Davis Mountains in West Texas, home to the second darkest night sky in the United States. We loved going there for the magical starry nights where the Milky Way can easily be seen without a telescope, and for the sparse populated terrain and vast wilderness. For years, we have made this annual pilgrimage a priority. We disconnected completely and hiked, stargazed, slept and read; this journey brought us back to ourselves and to each other.
Nature opens me to the present moment. It allows me to access wisdom and insights that I could never have had in my modern 24/7 life. I never cease to be amazed by the insights and clarity that often arise after a weekend at the ocean or a day in the dark, cool forest.
Time in nature is often referred to as the ultimate antidepressant as it affects us physically, mentally and emotionally. Being outdoors alleviates stress, positively affects our mood and overall mental health, helps us “reset”, promotes cognitive functioning, promotes problem solving and creativity, supports work/life balance, stimulates social interactions and promotes family bonds and intimacy.
The other night I met a small group of friends at the river for a picnic dinner. The river water was cool, refreshing and invigorating. Our rendezvous with nature had a huge impact on our moods; the respite made us feel like everything was going to be okay.
Spending time in nature should be as natural and regular as breathing, not something we save for a special occasion, but something that is built into our weekly flow.
If it’s been a while since you’ve spent time outdoors or perhaps you’re new to Transylvania County and feel out of place in bear country, consider the following ten ideas to help to “go outside!” :
• Team up. Ask your nature-loving friends for tips on local spots and join them on their next excursion to discover hidden gems nearby. Maybe even organize a weekly or monthly “nature get-together” or a hike with family or friends, and alternate which park or natural area you visit (let the kids or grandkids choose!).
•Stay close to home. Familiarize yourself with your own backyard, neighborhood park, streams/trails, and any natural areas within walking distance. Look for all the green spaces you can find: gardens, labyrinths, hidden paths, a schoolyard or even a public green space where you can observe birds and white squirrels!
• Be a camper. It can be a wonderful experience for families; invite a group of friends to join you. Take it slow and easy: sleep in “camping cabins”, yurts, or pitch a tent in your own backyard if you’re just getting started!
•Plan a picnic. Prepare a simple picnic of cold food, take a blanket and head to the forest or a field; everyone loves the spontaneity of picnics on a weeknight or a lazy Sunday night!
• Make it a game. If you’re not a hiker, play outdoor games like football, horseshoes and Frisbee golf or turn exploration into a competition: who can spot the most squirrels, birds or cobwebs where to find the most unusual rocks, pods or crystals?
• Grow your own food. Whether it’s a community garden, raised beds, or container gardening, growing your own food can be exciting and rewarding! Visit a local farm for inspiration (your local farmer’s market is a great place to connect with nearby farms).
• Tune into the rhythms of nature. Consider marking the full moon, new moon, or summer solstice with an evening hike, canoe trip, or swim—these rituals can be fun and meaningful ways to connect with the rhythms of nature. Psst: check out my offers at www.ReneeTrudeau.com/WildSouls.
•Create new habits. Make time in nature a daily habit. Visit a nature area daily before dinner to help you relax and release stress, have your morning coffee on the back porch, or make it a point to see what birds are in your yard during your leisure time. lunch. After dinner, walks around your neighborhood are relaxing and help prepare everyone for a good night’s sleep.
•Tap on outside groups for help. Contact your national, state, or county park office and inquire about their outdoor programs. Also visit the Children and Nature Network website, founded by my friend Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, to learn more about family-oriented events. Locally, I love the offerings from FIND Outdoors and Conserving Carolina!
•Be adventurous. Discover the “wild side” of nature and do something you’ve never done before. Our local forests offer endless adventures; or try kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, ziplining, rock climbing, or horseback riding. Consider swapping homes with another family in a natural area you would like to visit; try using a service like www.homeexchange.com.
Just going out at night to a place where you can see the stars – really see them in all their incredible vastness – is enough. This experience always reminds me how small and inconsequential my worries are. Life is a mystery to be lived, not a thing to be managed. The healing power of nature recalibrates us and helps put things into perspective.
In our galaxy, the sun is one of a hundred billion stars. Which is more important: finish your laundry or go out to see a rare full moon eclipse? Pick up a copy of my book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life for more great ideas on how to immerse yourself (and your family) in the healing power of nature !
Renee Peterson Trudeau is a nationally recognized Brevard-based author/speaker/mindfulness coach who is passionate about helping people find balance through the art/science of self-care. Check out her Awakening Your Wild Soul Women’s Retreat May 6-8 in Boone, NC, and subscribe to her weekly life balance blog at www.Renee Trudeau.com.