Getting Outside and Your Mental Health

When I was little I was a  nerd. A book worm. I played piano and I loved puzzles. I wasn’t what you would have called an “outdoor-sy” type kid. But I had this spot in a weird tree-bush in my back yard that I loved to climb up and sit. I could nestle there and read or sing or dream or spy on the cute boy next door. And there I found comfort and peace. 

I also loved to go camping which we did fairly regularly. Food tasted better cooked outside for some reason. I loved fishing and I loved ice skating on outdoor ponds while my dad went ice fishing. Maybe I was more of an outdoor type than I thought!

August at a state park near our house whacking at things with sticks!

August is a HUGE outdoor kid. He loves being outside and it immediately calms him. I remember once the psychiatrist asking what his favorite thing to do was and his father replying, “Go outside and whack at things with sticks.” And that was pretty true. He’d stay outside for hours even by himself and never seem bored.

When he was having a hard time he’d say, “Mom I need to go run around the house.” And he would literally run around the outside of the house. And when he came in he would be a different kiddo. Calm, collected, ready to listen. It was like the outside exorcised whatever demons had hold of him. Nothing outside ever scared him. Except snakes. That child is deathly afraid of snakes!

A picture I took of a hummingbird at one of my feeders.

What is it about being outdoors that has the power to ease our minds and quiet our hearts? There are sounds and smells and sights outside that have a mesmerizing effect.

I have four hummingbird feeders next to my backdoor. I live in what used to be my grandparent’s house and my grandmother put them there so I have continued to keep them there and filled because hummingbirds return to the same locations year after year. Every year I fill them in late April and wait. And I am overjoyed when I see them arrive usually in early to mid-May. They are so tiny and so fragile and to watch them furiously flap their wings and hover over the feeders to eat is amazing. Hummingbirds also fight for position and will swoop down at each other and perch on my clothesline and wait their turn. I can feel myself get calmer and more centered in the few minutes I stop to watch them. They have no idea how much they help me.

You don’t have to believe my anecdotes to know the value of the outdoors to your mental health. This article discusses several ways that being outside can be good for reducing stress levels, boosting mood, helping with anxiety and more. And MentalFloss, one of my personal favorites for information, lists not only mental but also physical benefits (more than just exercise) of getting outside. Read about those here.

Sunset one night in my backyard.

The days are getting longer. Depending on where you are reading this, summer starts in just a few days. Take every chance you can, with or without kids, to get outside and enjoy the free therapy of the outdoors. Work as a family in the yard planting flowers, take the dog for a walk, take yourself for a walk, just sit in a chair at sunset and listen to the night wake up. You will be amazed at the results.

Until next time,

Shannon

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