Nature: The Ultimate Antidepressant
Spring is upon us and the outdoors is ready and waiting to be explored. This month’s Inner Balance is excerpted from the new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family by Renée Peterson Trudeau. Published with permission of New World Library (newworldlibrary.com).
Start Where You Are
If you find yourself avoiding or resisting spending more time in nature, do it anyway! Start with whatever is outside your front door. Kathy, a 44-year-old mom, said, “After I had my son and began to spend more and more time outdoors, I started appreciating the natural areas near our home like I never had before. My son and I feel closest when we’re exploring an anthill or collecting rocks together. I’m hooked. I can’t believe I forgot how powerful it is to be immersed in Mother Nature.”
If it’s been years since you’ve spent time outdoors, or perhaps you feel out of your element chasing bears and mountain lions, consider the following strategies:
Team up: Ask your nature-loving friends for advice on local spots, and join them on their next excursion to discover hidden gems in your area.
Stay close to home: Get to know your own backyard, street, neighborhood park, and any natural areas within walking distance.
Pack supplies: Take a glass jar and catch minnows in a nearby stream, or bring a magnifying glass out to a field and see life from a bug’s perspective!
Get campy: Dare yourself to go camping. This can be a wonderful experience for families; invite a group of families to join you. Take it slow and easy: sleep in “camping cabins” or set up a tent in your own backyard!
Join a group: Visit your local camping or outdoor store (such as REI) and sign up for a class or guided hike.
Plan a picnic: Pack a simple picnic of cold food—lunch or dinner—grab a blanket, and head to your closest park. Kids love the spontaneity of picnics on a weeknight!
Make it a game: If hiking is no draw, play outdoor games like soccer, horseshoes, wiffle ball, and Frisbee golf. Or turn exploration into a competition: Who can spot the most squirrels, birds, or bats, or find the most unusual rocks, shells, or crystals?
Make a date: Set up a weekly or monthly “nature date” with family and friends, and rotate which park or natural area you visit (let the kids choose!). Some families I know have dubbed these “Outdoor Adventure Clubs.”
Grow your own grub: Explore container gardening and grow your own herbs and vegetables: kids love to grow their own food! Then visit a local farm (your local farmer’s market is a great place to get connected to nearby farms).
Attune to nature’s rhythms: Consider marking the full moon, new moon, or summer solstice with a hike, outdoor drum circle, or swim—kids love ritual, and it can be a fun, meaningful way to connect to nature’s rhythms.
Create new habits: Make nature a daily or weekly habit. Head to a local park after school, even if it’s only one or two days a week; even a short park visit before you head home can really enhance everyone’s mood!
Enjoy evening strolls: Take evening walks in your neighborhood each night after dinner—these can be relaxing for parents and help everyone prepare for good sleep. They are wonderful, easy opportunities to observe your immediate natural environment.
Ask the experts: Contact your state park office and ask about their family programs. Also visit the websites for the Sierra Club (sierraclub.org) and the Children and Nature Network (childrenandnature.org)—founded by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods—to learn about family-oriented events in your area.
Be adventurous: Experience nature’s “wild side” and do something you’ve never done before! National parks are ideal for this, since they preserve our continent’s natural treasures and usually maintain accessible, family-friendly facilities. Or choose an “extreme” activity: go sea kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, ziplining, rock climbing, snowshoeing—anything fun. Or consider swapping homes with another family in a natural area you’d like to visit: try using a service like homeexchange.com.
Get creative: Don’t feel hemmed in by your urban or suburban home turf. Seek out all the green spaces you can find: botanical gardens, sculpture gardens, a rooftop garden, a neighbor’s outdoor space, a school playground, or even an open plaza or square where you can watch the birds and squirrels.
Seeing the effect that being outdoors has on my family has convinced me that spending time in nature needs to be as natural and regular as breathing. For instance, one recent Saturday, nothing in our household or family was going right. Everyone seemed grumpy, disconnected, and frustrated; lack of sleep and an unbalanced diet had taken its toll. I finally suggested we surrender the day, throw some snacks and water in a backpack, and head to a wilderness preserve a short drive from our home. My husband and son begrudgingly agreed, and an hour and a half later we were laughing together, running on the trails, and feeling like all was right in the world. Nothing shifts perspective and heals like being in a beautiful natural setting! It doesn’t take much. Merely getting outside at night in a place where you can see the stars—really see them in all their amazing vastness—is enough. The experience always reminds me of how small and inconsequential my worries are. Life is a mystery, not a thing to be managed. The healing power of nature recalibrates us and helps put things in perspective.
It’s not a luxury to get away and immerse yourself in a natural setting. It’s like oxygen. It’s essential to your wellbeing. It’s one of the greatest gifts we have available to us. In our galaxy, the sun is one of a hundred billion stars. Now how important is it to make sure you finish your laundry and your car gets washed again?
Renée Peterson Trudeau is an internationally-recognized life balance coach, speaker, and author. Her latest book is Nurturing the Soul of Your Family.