There is something just a little bit magical about looking out onto a beautiful natural vista for the very first time, whether you’re gazing out at the majestic peaks of the Maroon Bells, near Aspen, Colorado (CO), easily one of the most photographed natural wonders in North America, or you’re hiking through Ricketts Glen State Park in Pennsylvania (PA) to see its timeless and abundant number of waterfalls.
Maybe this instinctive and intuitive feeling of wonder harks back to a time when we didn’t live in structured communities of housing, but within nature itself, simply surviving off the land, one day at a time.
It certainly is a feeling that comes from a time eons and eons well before we would look out onto a brand-new natural vista, take a little snapshot of it to share on Facebook or Snapchat, and then just move onto the next.
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”
– Sylvia Plath, renowned U.S. poet and novelist; excerpt from “The Bell Jar”
Nature seemingly takes us back to a different time when life was much simpler. It refreshes and energizes us. It makes our problems appear smaller and more manageable, and it makes us more thankful and more hopeful in a very basic, yet highly spiritual way.
In the words of the charismatic Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while…” You know the rest.
Our lives do seem to be getting faster. Technological advancements abound, speeding everything up, and actually taking the time to spend a few days, even a few hours, lost in the heartbeat of nature, in the “Great Outdoors,” has become a rarer and rarer occurrence for the vast majority of us. Sadly, many, many people prefer to spend their valuable free time somewhere with a relatively good WiFi connection…
However, if you’re in recovery from substance addiction, life has certainly started looking a lot more “natural” – endless possibilities, refreshing and even energizing, and, all importantly, hopeful. Your free time is probably more valuable now, and how you spend it or how you use it will go a long way in determining the success of your addiction recovery.
So, here’s the question:
How Can The Great Outdoors Benefit Addiction Recovery?
Before answering this, let’s twist it a little, and first ask “How can staying indoors benefit the addiction recovery?”
Put simply, it can’t.
In fact, you’re far more likely to relapse if “staying indoors” sounds like the better option to you. Boredom, irregular sleep patterns, loss of creativity, and isolation, one of the clear triggers of depression, which, in turn, triggers addiction relapse. Sorry, but game over. Lastly, it’s probably why it’s not called “The Great Indoors.”
Now, let’s return to our original question: How Can The Great Outdoors Benefit Addiction Recovery? Here are just a few of the many benefits:
- Stress Reduction: Stress is a primary trigger in the majority of addiction relapses, and it is responsible for slowing down an individual’s recovery. A guaranteed way of relieving feelings of stress is to immerse yourself in nature, as reported by many medical studies into our natural production of serotonin, the brain’s “happy” chemical.
- Immune System Boost: Addiction damages the immune system, making us vulnerable to all types of infections and other medical conditions. Spending significant amounts of time outside in a natural environment improves our immunity. Being outside in the sunshine is an important way of ensuring you get enough vitamin D for a healthy immune system. On the flip-side, not getting adequate sunlight can cause autoimmune diseases, heart disease and diabetes.
- Creative Thinking Enhancement: Creative thinking perishes indoors. Getting outside, in the fresh air and natural warmth, is a way to embrace and enhance that creativity. Personally, in my own long-term recovery via a number of drug rehab centers in PA, I combined two of my favored recovery pastimes – by writing in my journal when I was immersed in nature. The resulting creativity seemed endless – it’s thoroughly recommended..
- Vital Exercise: Whatever you decide to do outside, it all amounts to valuable and vital exercise. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
- Going on a picnic
- Going cycling
- Learning photography
- Fishing, or simply
- Going the park
- Sleep Promotion: Getting out in the fresh air and doing slow but meaningful exercise, like walking, does absolute wonders for those struggling to get a good night’s sleep. Outdoor activities promote better sleep patterns and deeper sleep.
Long-term, sustainable recovery from substance addiction is no walk-in-the-park (excuse the pun…). It takes time, effort, and hard work – every single day. Especially on the days when you feel you don’t have time, it’s too much effort, and you worked hard at it yesterday. Yes, especially on those days.
With best wishes to you in your addiction recovery – today and tomorrow.