Mental health, women, and the healing nature of the great outdoors
Does going outside really make a difference?
Have you heard? May is Mental Health Awareness month. Why? Because we as a society are waking up to the reality that our mental health is not where it should be — and we are no longer settling.
The reality is that roughly 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness. Tack on the challenges so many have faced throughout this pandemic, and you’ve got a boatload of mental unease.
But the beautiful reality is — we are fighting back.
This national movement to raise awareness does away with the stigma against mental illness, brings support to those who need it, and encourages policy and societal change that moves us into a healthier nation.
So let’s join the movement and talk about mental health.
Common signs of mental illness (and what to do about them)
Mental illness is a broad and complex topic, and isn't as easy to diagnose as heart disease or a skin condition.
So, what do we look for, and how do we know when it’s time to take action?
We all have cases of the blues, but we ought to perk our ears up a little if the blues draw out over time and begin to affect our day-to-day living.
Pay attention to:
Strong feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last longer than two weeks
Intense worries or fears that interfere with your daily living
Significant weight loss or gain
Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
Sudden, overwhelming, debilitating fear — comes on for no reason and often accompanies racing heart, difficulty breathing, and physical discomfort
And of course, if you are trying to hurt yourself, end your life, or spend extra time and energy thinking about suicide, reach out — The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800- 273-8255
Sometimes we recognize these shifts in people we love — sometimes we find them in ourselves. It’s so important that we listen to our hearts and signs from our loved ones.
Ask questions and try to stay in a place of understanding and empathy. What is their life like right now? What have you been dealing with that might be more challenging than normal? How can you be supportive, or how can you reach out and ask for support from others?
Talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns. Read and learn more about mental illness — it’s no longer seen as such a taboo topic, and the age-old mentality of “suck it up, you’ll be fine” is finally fading to dust.
It’s ok for your mental health to take a dip. It happens to way more of us than we sometimes realize. Admitting that something is off is the first step to becoming a healthier, stronger you.
We can take our mental wellness into our own hands. Making choices to put our mental health as a priority just like we do with our physical health is paramount to living our life the way we want. So what are some things we can do on our own?
“And into the forest I go — to lose my mind and find my soul”
Why nature is so good for your mental health
How much do you love the beach? Or the mountains? The desert? (Yes these people exist. My folks are from El Paso and they are literally the happiest when they’re in the desert, surrounded by dirt-bare mountains. To each their own...)
Odds are, one of these destinations sparks your fancy and fans your flame.
The one obvious thing they all have in common?
They’re all outdoors!
Lisa Nisbet, PhD is a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario Canada. She studies connectedness to nature and says “There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits
for both physical and psychological human wellbeing”.
I’m sure you’ve read the facts, but let's outline them again —
Spending time outdoors significantly reduces the stress hormone cortisol
Contact with natural light is not only therapeutic — it has immediate positive effects on stress, blood pressure, and our immune system
Studies have repeatedly shown that walks in nature significantly benefit people suffering from depression and anxiety
Studies have even shown that having plants indoors aids our mental health — improving sensory awareness and cognitive function, purifying our air, and enhancing focus
But the thing is, getting in touch with nature means something different for all of us.
My very best girlfriend moved all the way to sunny Hawaii. Her cold, grey Wisconsin upbringing secured in her heart a love for warmth and the bright yellow sun.
We talked about it so much when she first moved there (the psych nerd in me was super intrigued) — she noticed an extreme impact on her mental health. A positive one (do I really need to point that out?).
When she was basking in Hawaii’s bright sun, she felt calmer, happier, more content, and more clear-minded. When she spent days living in cold grey weather, with rare glimpses of the sun, she would spiral into very deep trenches of depression and anxiety.
Yup. Hawaii suits her.
I, on the other hand, have been at my fullest contentment spending slow, quiet time in the mountains of Ruidoso, New Mexico or Aspen, Colorado. To me, there is no finer sweetness than breathing in the chilled, crisp mountain air. Nothing feels better. Nothing smells sweeter.
My sister-in-law takes walks along the trail by their house every day. This is her time to pray and be with God, and she relishes it.
So many of us find those stats to be like “duh!” because we already know it —
We are more at peace when we’re in nature.
Why do women and femmes feel a connection to nature?
Women and femmes often feel a strong connection to nature, and when you think about it, it makes sense.
I recently had the pleasure of working with a woman who works in elemental medicine.
She explained to me the ties between the body and the elements of earth, fire, water, and air. And she walked me through the healing, therapeutic aspects I can find in each.
Earth grounds us — fire ignites our flame for a life lived with passion — water reminds us to release into the ebb and flow of life — air fills our lungs and moves replenishing oxygen throughout our body, particularly when we engage in mindful breath-work.
Now work with me — our planet isn’t called “Mother Earth” for no reason.
Our bodies uniquely house a system that creates, nurtures, births, and feeds life. Our bodies literally mirror our Earth. When we embrace this, we can look to our Earthly Mother for guidance, inspiration, reassurance, and insight.
Our Mother Earth maintains harmony, wholeness, and balance of life — she heals, nurtures, and supports life.
We move through seasons in life like our Mother Earth — sometimes we are fertile, producing, expanding, and thriving — and sometimes we are dormant, in need of solitude so that we can process our deep and dark periods.
I find so much comfort when Spring comes around and I am reminded (because I can forget) that all things pass — new birth comes — and life, in its beautiful way, is cyclical.
When I find myself in the middle of a dark and barren Winter, I can walk outside and remind myself that Spring is coming.
How spending time in nature with other women and femmes feeds your mental health
“When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘We’ even ‘illness’ becomes ‘wellness’”
-Sushan R Sharma
Time enjoyed in the wonders of the outdoors is medicine indeed, but how much more potent and satisfying when a sister is added to the mix.
A number of studies have confirmed it — social support significantly aids in stress management and healthy coping.
In fact, Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University exposed hundreds of healthy volunteers to the common cold virus after extensively evaluating their social lives.
Guess what he found?
You got it — the participants with more social connections were less likely to develop a cold than those who lived more isolated lives.
But I don’t need to tell you this — you know the catharsis you feel when you call one of your friends to talk through a problem you’re dealing with.
For me, even hearing my Hawaii friend's voice often fills me with joy, a strong feeling of connectedness, and a calmer mind.
So just imagine the therapy you’ll experience going out into the wild with fellow women — women and femmes who are on the same page and know how to receive you with understanding and compassion — and who share your connection to Mother Earth and your thirst for healing and rejuvenation.
The bonding and companionship that come from exploring with other sisters is something you truly have to experience for yourself.
Tips for getting some of that nature goodness
You’re convinced now, right?
Being outside is some of the purest, cheapest medicine you can get for your brain, mind, heart, and soul.
So how do you do it?
Do you have a morning routine? (You should) Adding in some outdoor time into your routine is hugely beneficial. Exercise outdoors, get comfy with your favorite morning drink and watch the sunrise, meditate and feel your breath flow with the breeze.
When you find yourself stuck in a mental loop or unable to calm down, take yourself outside for a mindful walk. Listen to the birdsong, look at the changing season, feel the sunlight on your face. For extra grounding, walk barefoot through the grass.
Go for a swim. Immerse yourself in the element of water and let it’s healing powers wash away your stress.
JOIN US! For one heck of a healing, inspirational, crazy-fun adventure!
And if all of this seems like too much for you right now, even bringing in some plants to your indoor space has been proven to heal the mind and body.
It doesn’t exactly matter how you do it. What matters is that you-
1. Recognize your need to support and nourish a healthy mind
2. Get yourself outside OR bring the nature to you.
I don’t think I really have to tell you that breathing fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun on your face, hearing birdsong, and smelling fresh flowers is calming — even therapeutic.
But we all need a little reminder now and then and a wee bit of encouragement to put the screen down and tend to our minds.
Try it out. Spend a little bit more time outside than you normally do every day for a week, and see how you’re feeling by the end of it.
And then, when you feel that serotonin hit and start to hunger for an even wilder adventure, call us. We’ll take you on a trip that will feed your soul and calm your mind so that you can return to your lives more balanced.
Ariel, the Hippie Copywriter, is a freelance copywriter for the holistic sphere. She loves writing about our own inner healing power, as well as anything relating to the beauty of life and our Mother Earth. She also loves singing loud enough to annoy her children. You can read more about her and her services here.