As summer starts to wind down and fall approaches, what is on our minds? Are we fraught with the everyday stress that bogs us down? Perhaps we are looking forward to the fall temperatures and changing of the season. The end of summer and fall can provide a perfect opportunity to get outside and enjoy nature. Studies have shown that just looking at nature and being around natural life can even reduce pain medication use and shorten hospitalization time after surgery! It’s what our parents must have known all along when they made us play outside. And yet we are becoming busier and more isolated as technology tempts us to be more insular. Taking time to unplug and unwind, even for part of a day, can be beneficial and therapeutic. No matter what our physical or other limitations are, there are numerous ways to get out and enjoy nature. We are fortunate enough to live in an area with many outdoor options such as parks and forests to enjoy. This is a great time of year to get out and dust off that bicycle, break out the old baseball or softball glove, or just get out for a stroll with a loved one or pet. It is a great time to leave the demands of the office behind for a brief time and just be human. Another way to get outside and enjoy this time of year is to start an outdoor project.
Starting an outdoor project such as a garden can be a great way to get children and family members involved and engaged. It allows us to be creative and in addition to helping the environment, can provide exercise, stress relief, and access to fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Creating a garden, even a small one, allows us to get exercise, spend time together outdoors, be creative, and most importantly, get dirty! Details of how exercise can improve mental well-being have been established in numerous studies. Expressing creativity is another way we can relax and unwind. Something about digging in the soil and getting down into the earth with our hands is soothing and immediately gratifying. It can remind us of our days of playing in the sand box or making mud pies as young children. The hustle of everyday life can take us farther away from that simplicity with each email, text, meeting, and class. It is easy to lose sight of having fun and engaging in recreation as we move ever farther from childhood, but the benefits of making the time to do so can be incredibly rewarding. Don’t take my word for it, take the challenge. Challenge yourself to do something outdoors at least once or twice per week.
Whatever your particular interest may be, the challenge is to find something to enjoy outside. So let’s power down the cell phones and laptops and get outside and enjoy the natural world for a change. It may be just the revitalization needed for a fresh perspective and improved outlook.
Jeremy Hicks, LCSW, CCDPD, CAADC is a licensed clinical social worker and certified addiction counselor who was formerly a therapist at Franco Psychological Associates.