The benefits of outdoor activity are well known. Whether you’re hiking, biking, swimming, or running, these activities are all great ways to get your heart rate up and stay healthy. However, less physically demanding outdoor activities (such as gardening or washing a car) are also good for your health. Mental health, that is. Sometimes just being outdoors makes you feel good, and it’s no wonder. Fresh air, open space, sunshine, greenery…who doesn’t love these things? Especially after being cooped up in an office or classroom for hours on end every day, being outdoors is a sure-fire way to boost your mood and make you feel more relaxed.
The positive influence of the outdoors is so great that it is even being recommended as a form of therapy in and of itself.1 Instead of relying on pharmacological intervention, some therapists recommend “outdoor therapy” as an alternative way to help people with affective disorders (such as depression).2 In general, it has been found that people who try outdoor therapy experience “improvements in self-concept, self-acceptance and more realistic self-perceptions, and reduced conflict, depression, and anxiety.”3 These effects have been shown with a variety of individuals of all ages, genders, races, personality types, and mental health statuses.4 Of course anyone can benefit from outdoor therapy, even if you’re simply having a bad day or are feeling a little under-the-weather.
There’s no one particular activity which is recommended above others as the best form of outdoor therapy; however, it has been noted that a short camping trip (even a mock-camping trip in one’s own backyard!) can be a remarkably effective way to reduce stress, anxiety, or bad mood.5 This may be due to the fact that camping is meant to take you away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life where most of one’s stress originates. When you’re camping you don’t have to worry about studying for an upcoming midterm or fret about that long list of things “to do.” In fact, when you’re camping the only things you really need to worry about are what you’re going to cook for your next meal and keeping ample wood on the fire. I wouldn’t necessarily classify these things under “worries,” however. Even though it may just be for a couple days, camping allows you to relax and rejuvenate, leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to once again tackle all life’s challenges. Granted, not everyone considers giving up all connections to civilization for a weekend foray into the depths of the wilderness to be a relaxing experience. If you don’t like camping, then it probably won’t help to ease your stress or anxiety. Conversely, it will probably increase your bad mood, which would be counter-productive. That’s why outdoor therapy can be tailored to individual preferences. If you’re an athletic person, then maybe going for a run or hiking with some friends will boost your mood. On the other hand, if you just need some time to yourself and prefer something a little more low-key, then just grab a book and head to the local park for a quiet afternoon.
So next time you’re in a bad mood, feeling stressed out, lonely, overwhelmed, frustrated, or you simply want some alone time- head outside and try some outdoor therapy. Whether you decide to go for a five kilometer run or grab a coffee and read a good book, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel after stepping outside to clear your mind.