Nature therapy, also known as ecotherapy, has become an increasingly popular way to improve one’s mental and physical health. After all, spending time outdoors has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, as well as enhance overall well-being — all of which are beneficial for those in addiction recovery. However, to get the most out of nature therapy, there are certain things you can do to enhance the experience.
At Choice House, we’ll explore 10 ways you can make the most of nature and outdoor-based therapies, such as by keeping an open mind, engaging all of your senses and unplugging from technology. By following these tips, you can deepen your connection to nature and take advantage of all the ways it can help you stay sober for the long term.
A 2018 review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that exposure to natural environments can improve our mental health and well-being by reducing stress, boosting mood, and decreasing the symptoms of anxiety or depression.
1. keep an open mind
One of the best things you can do in nature therapy is to approach it with an open mind, even if you don’t consider yourself an “outdoors person.” Nature has a unique way of surprising us with unexpected gifts, but we can only receive these gifts if we’re willing to let go of our preconceived notions and allow ourselves to be fully immersed in the present.
When you’re out in nature, try to let go of any judgments or expectations you may have and simply allow yourself to be absorbed by your surroundings. This means slowing down, taking deep breaths and observing the sights, sounds and sensations around you. By approaching nature therapy with an open mind, you may find that you’re able to connect with the outdoors in ways you never thought possible, deepening your recovery and well-being.
2. engage all of your senses
For those of us in recovery, nature therapy can be a powerful tool for achieving and maintaining lasting sobriety. But to get the most out of the experience, it helps to engage all of your senses to fully enjoy the benefits of being outdoors.
To start, pause and take a deep breath, paying attention to each of your senses as you exhale. This helps ground you in the present and brings more awareness to your body. Mindful breathing also activates the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce stress.
Then, stand or sit in place and pay attention to the colors, shapes and textures that surround you, as well as the difference between the light and shadows. Close your eyes and direct your attention to what you can hear, including the farthest and closest sounds. You can also pay attention to the rhythm of the place and focus on your sense of smell.
3.let yourself be absorbed by nature
While spending time in nature is good for the mind and body, don’t just go outside for the sake of it. In addition to engaging all of your senses, allow yourself to be fully absorbed by the moment and your natural surroundings.
Move slowly through nature and let yourself be drawn to whatever catches your attention. Maybe it’s a brightly colored flower, an impressive tree or the murmur of a nearby stream. Take some time to listen to the birds and feel your feet planted firmly on the ground. Then, choose a spot to sit or lie in for 10 minutes and watch what happens around you. If your mind wanders back to your usual worries, gently shift your focus back to your senses.
4. unplug & disconnect
In today’s world, we’re constantly surrounded by screens, notifications and the pressure to stay connected. Because of this, it can be difficult to find moments of peace and quiet. That’s why when enjoying the outdoors, it’s essential to unplug and disconnect from technology.
This means putting your phone on silent or leaving it behind altogether. By doing this, you are creating a space to focus on being present in the natural world. You are giving yourself permission to take a break from the constant pressure to check your phone, respond to messages or scroll through social media, which can provide a sense of relief and allow you to become fully immersed in the healing benefits of nature.
5. move your body
Staying active can help your recovery in several ways. That’s why combining physical activity with outdoor and nature-based therapies can enhance the benefits of both.
One way to do this is by going for a hike or leisurely stroll outdoors. You could also explore your surroundings by mountain biking or even kayaking — whatever suits your abilities and preferences. No matter how you spend your time outdoors and get moving, studies like this one published in Frontiers in Psychology show that just 20 minutes in nature can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. The exercise also releases endorphins, dopamine and other feel-good chemicals that play an important role in regulating mood.
Incorporating physical activity into nature therapy can also help you develop a sense of accomplishment and pride, which is especially important for men in recovery. It provides an opportunity to set goals, track progress and achieve success, boosting your self-esteem and confidence. Overall, by moving your body in nature, you can enhance the mental and physical benefits of nature therapy and support your long-term sobriety.
6. be prepared
When trekking through the great outdoors, it’s important to be prepared. That means dressing appropriately for the terrain and weather to ensure your comfort. Depending on the location, you may need to wear hiking boots or comfortable walking shoes. You should also consider clothing that is breathable and allows for a full range of motion, so you aren’t restricted.
In addition to comfortable clothing, you may want to bring a small mat or stool that allows you to sit comfortably while taking in your surroundings. Bringing water and a snack is also important to stay hydrated and energized during your nature therapy experience.
7. share the experience with others
Getting sober often involves striking a balance between solitary and group activities or experiences. You’ll want to spend some time alone to process your own thoughts and feelings while working toward your treatment goals, but it’s also crucial to spend time with others and forge meaningful, lasting connections for support during difficult times.
At Choice House, we understand the importance of community and friendship in recovery. Our outdoor activities are specifically designed to provide opportunities for socialization and build camaraderie among our clients. Here, you’ll be able to share unique experiences with your peers while benefiting from the restorative effects of nature in the Boulder area.
8. consistency is key
Spending time outdoors has numerous benefits for your mental and physical health, but the key to getting the most out of nature therapy is consistency. Try to find a balance between small, regular doses of nature and the occasional larger dose.
Research has shown that even a short 15-minute walk in nature can reduce stress levels and improve cognitive function, but other studies have found that spending at least 2 hours per week outdoors is associated with the greatest improvements in health and well-being. Therefore, it’s recommended to spend a few hours each week surrounded by natural environments to fully reap the benefits of what nature has to offer.
To incorporate nature therapy into your recovery, try to spend at least 15 minutes every day outside, whether it’s a walk in the park, gardening or sitting by a tree. These small, regular doses can help you stay connected to nature and provide a sense of calm throughout the day. Additionally, schedule longer periods of time outdoors once a week, such as a hike in the mountains or spending time by the beach. These occasional larger doses can provide an even deeper connection with nature.
9. try something new
Trying something new during outdoor and nature therapy can enhance the experience by providing you with new ways to engage with the environment. It can also boost your mental health by breaking up any routines or patterns that may be causing you stress and anxiety.
At Choice House, we incorporate a variety of different activities into our treatment programming throughout the year, such as skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, fishing, rock climbing, mountain biking and more. However, you could also consider exploring other outdoor hobbies, such as bird watching or geocaching. No matter what your skill level or interests are, the Boulder, Colorado, area has a little something for everyone.
10. choose the right location
You can connect with nature and reap its healing benefits anywhere that you can soak up the sunlight and breathe fresh air, whether it’s at a local park, on a nearby mountain trail or in the woods. However, when enrolling in an outdoor or nature-based recovery program, it’s important to choose a location that resonates with your interests. If you’re an avid rock climber, you wouldn’t want to seek treatment in the Great Plains, for example.
Located in Boulder, Colorado, and surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, Choice House offers a variety of year-round outdoor activities. Some of our favorites take advantage of the beautiful natural settings in the area, such as Chautauqua Park, Betasso Preserve and the Boulder Creek Path. No matter the season, you can find us outside skiing, fly fishing, soaking in the nearby hot springs or enjoying a relaxing game of cornhole.
We live in a fast-paced and technology-driven world, so it’s easy to forget about the benefits of spending time outdoors. Nature therapy can help individuals with mental health or substance abuse disorders find peace, healing and a renewed sense of purpose — if they’re willing to truly connect with and immerse themselves in the experience. If you or someone you love needs help overcoming addiction and is interested in making the most out of an outdoor or nature-based treatment program, Choice House can help. Call us today at 303-578-4981 to talk to our admissions team. You can also click here to fill out our online contact form or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.