Monthly Archives: September 2013

green therapy: why being outdoors is so good for your mental heatlh

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Alive.

That’s how I feel when I spend time in the wilderness.

Awake. Aware. Alive. Like I’ve just woken from a dream.

We are wired to use our senses to constantly scan for danger and evaluate our surroundings. In the wild, we hear the wind and watch the clouds. We listen for the scratch of an animal brushing through the scrub. We strain our ears to identify the call of a bird.

I’m using my sense-starved instincts to do what I was made to do. Sometimes I just have to touch the bark of a tree, make a connection, and feel the joy of using my senses to the fullest.

In the outdoors, I am conscious of how stark the interiors of my surroundings typically are. No sounds but the tap of keys on my laptop; the cycling hum of the refrigerator. A dog barks outside and I feel my ears unconsciously orient themselves toward the disturbance.

When I am indoors, I do not see the variation of shadows of the trees stretching and twirling in the wind. The light comes from the bulb in my lamp. It does not shift or dance.

I smell nothing at all, as my nose is accustomed to the static, stagnant scents of my home, the carpeting, the faint must from old walls.

My senses are deadened. Well, maybe not deadened, but certainly stifled, starved.

Maybe this is why my ADD is so much better when I am outdoors, fully engaged and using my senses. An insect lands on my ankle and tickles me. I see not just feet or meters in front of me, but hundreds of yards. I take in the dynamic views of trees, fields, sky and clouds. Multiple distances and perspectives. I am cold when I stand in the shade and a breeze stirs up; seconds later I walk into a patch of sunlight and feel a bead of sweat trickling down my back; my hair hot and moist against my neck.

Studies bear it out repeatedly, that green time is great for kids and adults alike, especially those with ADD/ADHD, those serving time in prison, the elderly. Green time improves nighttime sleep in children, causes stressed workers to be able to concentrate better, and lengthens lifespan.

Could it be that our senses are deprived indoors, putting us into an unnatural, numbed, and understimulated state? While I am no scientist, I wonder if this explains why so many of us seek stimulation through screens. Are we simply looking for the same types of stimulation we would have gotten from spending most of our time outdoors, as our ancestors did?

I’ve noticed that even as I’m frequently bored indoors, I am never, ever bored when I’m hiking. Maybe this is why I am so drawn to it? I love that primal feeling, as if my true self is awakening. It’s a raw, sensual consciousness that ebbs when I go back indoors.

It’s also freedom: from minute worries, the expectations of others, and the pressure to constantly make conversation with my fellow humans.

I can be ugly, uncourteous, unconventional, and comfortable.

I am unjudged. Wild. Me.

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