Embracing Nature for Mental Health

When Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild hit shelves in 2012, it started a massive movement towards reading about and experiencing the outdoors-especially among women. In Strayed’s book, she highlights how nature can often offer a healing touch and comforting balm to wounds surrounding anxiety, depression, ptsd, and experiences from our past that we would much rather keep hidden from the sunlight. After experiencing a tragic death, divorce, drug use, and trauma, Strayed decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail during 1995–a trail over 2000 miles long that stretches from California to the Washington-Canada border. The story is one of tragedy, triumph, and the resilience we can all find in ourselves if we embrace all parts of our own stories, and open up to the healing process.

Why does Cheryl’s book stick with so many readers? Is it that so many can see themselves in her story? Her grief? Her struggles, challenges, and triumphs? Or is it something else?

One might point out that it could also be the setting. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is grueling. Gorgeous, of course, as most things are that stand the threat of time and development, but people who hike it suffer under no illusions that the path will be an easy one. Scorching desert temperatures at one part of the trail can rapidly surrender to plummeting degrees with feet of snow on the other–with everything in between. Anyone that voluntarily signs up for such a test of physical and mental resilience knows that the journey will require more of them than they could imagine at the time they begin.

Journeys like Strayed’s–and journeys into wild country and landscapes, in general, are not entirely unlike undertaking a journey to nurturing our mental health. It can be grueling as we face our shadow selves and past negative experiences, gorgeous as we turn to see how far we have come from where we started, and triumphant as we start to notice our progress over territory we previously thought uncrossable. Nature can offer us that, wherever we find it.

Does nature have to be wilderness in order to offer benefits when challenged with anxiety or depression, or other mental health concerns? Absolutely not. These benefits can be found anywhere-from hundreds of miles of untouched backcountry to an easily accessible community garden.

Spending time in nature can:

  • Increase feelings of calm and relaxation
  • Lessen feelings of stress, anger, and anxiety
  • Improve your physical activity and
  • Offer a place to play and process, especially with children

The next time you find yourself experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, or anger, consider going for a short stroll outside (or, in Cheryl Strayed’s case, a very, very long walk), and talking to a counselor about other ways to improve your mental health. If you are looking for a counselor in Huntsville, Albertville / Boaz, or Jacksonville, Alabama call us today at (256) 239-5662 or fill out the online form by clicking here.

Stay tuned for our next blog about “Starting Your Own ‘Mental Health Garden'”.

This blog was written by Morgan Osburn. Morgan is Garrett Counseling’s Director of Community Outreach.