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How Getting Outside Can Help During Addiction Recovery


Anyone who has been outside knows that nature is good for your. Whether it's curing cabin fever, helping reduce anxiety, or just reminding you to appreciate taking a moment to yourself, nature does wonders.

Nature can also help those recovering from addiction. This post is from guest author, Michelle Peterson, who wishes to eliminate the stigma surrounding people who struggle with addiction. Her mission is aligned with that of RecoveryPride, which is to celebrate sobriety and those who achieve it.

Your mother was right when she told you to go out and play. Sunlight and fresh air are good for you. Studies show that spending time in nature offers tangible benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. Here’s a quick overview of ways to take advantage of the great outdoors as part of your path to addiction recovery.

How Stress Works

When you’re faced with a physical threat to safety, your body amps up its warning system, flooding you with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This raises your blood pressure and frees up glucose to give you extra energy to fight or run away. The nervous system will act to suppress nonessential functions like growth and digestion and communicate with your brain that you’re in danger. After a threat passes, the hormone system re-regulates. However, when our bodies go into stress mode frequently over non-immediate or non-physical dangers, this whole system can get out of whack. Chronic stress triggers depression, anxiety, and problems with concentration and memory. It can even cause more severe problems for our health, including diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

The Benefits of Nature

Spending time in a natural environment is a proven restorative that helps you lower your stress levels and unwind, which is very important during addiction recovery. Japanese researchers have been studying the effects of natural forested environments on our health for decades, and they’ve discovered some amazing results. Spending time in the forest lowers cortisol levels by 12 percent, sympathetic nervous system activity by seven percent, heart rate by five percent, and blood pressure by almost one and a half percent. The practice has become standard medical procedure throughout Asian countries, and as many as five million visitors take to the forest therapy trails each year, reporting improvements in mood and reductions in anxiety. Other studies have shown that having beautiful natural scenery outside your window or in photographs in your hospital room can speed the healing process and improve recovery.

Green Exercise

To get the most bang for your buck during recovery, combine your nature time with moderate physical exercise. Try to get in a hike, walk, or bike ride in a forested environment, with beautiful natural scenery and flowing water. This “green exercise” has been shown to boost your immune system, enhancing the beneficial effects of regular physical movement. Even five minutes a day produces a measurable improvement to mental health. Go alone for the solitude or bring a friend for the socialization. Exercising with a pet outdoors can multiply the benefits; interacting with animals is another natural stress reliever, causing your body to release endorphins, happy hormones that act as natural mood elevators and pain relievers, which can replace a chemical high. Dog owners who regularly walk with their pets are healthier and have lower rates of diabetes and obesity. Get your leash and take your pet outside.

Nature as Therapy

Wilderness and adventure programs are becoming more popular as part of addiction therapy regimens. Participants learn valuable life skills and coping mechanisms while also learning new ways to manage their stress levels. They build communication skills and increase their sense of self-esteem. Often, they practice teamwork and learning to trust other people, and they come away feeling more capable than they realized and better able to take care of themselves. Whether as an alternative or as part of a traditional therapeutic approach, these programs can help a variety of people who are struggling with the problem of substance abuse and addiction, helping them to rebuild their bodies and restore their spirits.

Our modern world has separated us from the natural one; we live our lives under artificial light, constrained indoors, often working in small cubicles without access to the world outside. We perform much of our communication via phone and internet. But human beings didn’t evolve in this sterile, artificial world, and we’re maladapted for a life without trees, water, sun, and sky. For those going through addiction recovery, getting outdoors will improve your physical and mental health significantly by communing with Mother Nature.
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