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Wild Earth have teamed up with Human Nature, a Northern Rivers based organisation who provide nature-based mental health programs for young people. The team at Human Nature have provided their tips on how to improve your mental health by spending time in the outdoors.
Simply having an emotional attachment to our natural surroundings tends to make us happier and experience more joy in our lives. Here are some other things you can do outdoors to improve your mental health.
Founder of Human Nature, Andy Hamilton, conducting a therapy session with one of Human Nature's heroes.
Social connectedness is an important part of our overall well being. Organise a hike with friends, explore a new area with the family, or join a group activity that gets you out. Being outdoors provides great opportunities to connect with those close to us by way of memorable new experiences, a shared sense of calm and a break from the distractions of everyday life. And for when it’s needed, a tricky conversation is more easily had walking side by side with the sand under your feet.
There’s plenty of research to support that being physically active boosts our wellbeing and quite simply, when we’re outdoors we tend to move more! The work is already half done for you. If you’re struggling to be motivated choose an activity that’s not too demanding and build from there. If it’s just a short walk around the park, that’s fine too. Ideally you might build a ritual or a habit and your future self will thank you. It’s worth noting that discomfort is often what keeps us from going out. But when we look back to the past, we rarely remember it, and what we do remember are the experiences we have had when we pushed through. Fresh air and sunlight are also your allies. Sunlight cues the release of serotonin, a chemical in our bodies that is responsible for regulating our mood. One study even found improvements in mood when people spent just a minute each day standing in the sun!
Human Nature heroes during their beach hike session.
By tuning in with our surroundings, we may also tune in with ourselves. Take some time alone to observe your senses. What can you see, hear, smell and feel? You might even want to find a "sit spot" and revisit it for half an hour each day and observe the surroundings change. Notice the salty air, the varying colours among the foliage, the little or big creatures that pass through, the feel of the ground under your feet, the shifting sensations in your body. And in the same way, take this time to be attentive and respectful to whatever it is that’s been going on for you.
Opportunities for play are an important contributor to mental health. Make time for activities that aren’t related to your work or study and instead connect with your inner child. Be curious, creative and silly! You may want to learn about the world around you like the different species of edible or medicinal plants, the cloud formations and what they signal, or the star systems. You could pick up a new skill altogether like geocaching, snorkelling, canyoning or even just level up your camp kitchen skills. On the topic of learning, there are rich stories embedded in any location. Wherever you visit, find out who the traditional custodians are. What has their relationship been with the land or water?
Most would agree that there’s nothing quite like setting off on a remote hike or camping trip for a few days. Such opportunities aren’t accessible all the time. How can you tune in and connect with everyday nature that is close to home? Connecting to the outdoors could mean spending time getting your hands in the soil in your own backyard. Even becoming familiar with that plant on your windowsill. It’s also important to remember that nature isn’t just out there - it’s who we are. Human emotions ebb and flow with the tides, phases of our lives change with the seasons, and we grow in our own unique ways alongside the plants and trees that we share a home with. The experience of being connected to the broader cycles that we are a part of is deeply therapeutic and worth cultivating wherever we find ourselves.
Human Nature heroes swimming under a waterfall.
Chat to our friendly team of Outdoor Gear Specialists in-store or online today and don’t forget to share your adventures with us on Instagram by tagging @wildearthaustralia and #mywildearth in your next post.
About the contributor:
Since 2015, Human Nature has been dedicated to offering innovative, nature-based mental health support for young people facing complex trauma. They work with 14-20 year olds, who have been unable to engage with traditional clinical therapy. Their team of mental health professionals take them out into nature where they deliver evidence-based, trauma informed adventure therapy programs. Imagine going hiking, fishing, surfing and bike riding with your therapist or mentor. Pretty cool right?