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Spending Time in Nature: 4 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health in Addiction Recovery

  • By John Burke

  • January 17, 2023

Why Your Mental Health Needs Nature

For many people, getting out into nature can be tricky. If you live in a city or work full-time in an office, spending time outside takes some effort. But nature is an essential need part of your mental health. Moreover, it is vital in keeping you emotionally, psychologically and physically healthy. For those in addiction recovery, this need is even more important.

Because we don’t spend as much time in nature as we should or as we are able, it’s easy to forget that nature can actually help us heal. Moreover, we are spending more time on our phones and with screens thinking that it will help us relax.

But in fact it’s more effective to spend our free time outside as much as we can. This time can help us decompress, blow off steam, recharge, and recover from all of our time indoors. The mental health benefits of the outdoors—even if it’s just a simple walk while looking at the blue sky—can help anyone on the path of healing from addiction recovery.

How Can Being in Nature Be Therapeutic?

But how exactly does spending time in nature have therapeutic benefits? Well, it’s not as complicated as people think. “Nature” includes green spaces like parks, woodlands, open fields, or forests. It also includes trees on a city street, private gardens, and even indoor plants or window boxes.

For blue spaces, places like rivers, wetlands, beaches, or canals are all included. Even the clear blue sky can have the same effect! Funnily enough, even watching nature documentaries is good for your mental health. All of this is great news because it means that the mental health benefits of nature are accessible to every one of us, no matter where we live.

Speaking of green and blue spaces, even the color scheme that nature offers can affect your mental health. One study analyzed how blue light exposure decreased stress in elderly individuals after just one week of daily treatment. This means that spending time near soothing blue oceans and blue skies can be a type of therapy all on its own! Just being near blue (and green) environments have a restorative effect on your mental health, including improving your moods, and creating a sense of calm and tranquility.

What Are the Different Ways to Be in Nature?

There are many nature-based activities available to you. Some relaxed approaches include:

  • Gardening in the backyard or community garden
  • Walking in a grassy field or flower field
  • Going to an outdoor pool
  • Going to the beach or lakeside

More formal nature-based therapies can include those in which you are guided by therapists and trained professionals. Such activities could include:

  • Farming-related therapy, either community or individually-based
  • Animal-assisted therapy, such as interacting with or training horses or dogs
  • Adventure therapy, such as white water rafting or rock climbing
  • Wilderness therapy, often used for at-risk youth
  • Forest therapy, which is a mindful practice as you walk through a forest

What Are the Benefits of Nature for Mental Health?

Significant research has been done on how spending time in nature affects one’s mental health. In fact, there are many mental health benefits. Some of these benefits are well-researched, while others need more data. But all in all, the results are positive and definitive—being outside makes a difference.

Not only is spending time in nature accessible in different situations, it’s also a low-cost way to improve overall well-being, including mental, physical, and emotional health. Some of these benefits include:

  • Increased Happiness: Physical activity in nature, even if low-impact and short duration, can increase dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain. These are the “happy” brain chemicals that play a large role in overall health, especially for those in addiction recovery. As you train your brain to experience these states apart from substance abuse, the more stable and sustainable your sobriety will be.
  • Decreased Stress and Anxiety: Even if you spend a minimum of 10 minutes, either sitting or walking in a natural setting, there can be significant and beneficial impact on your mental health. By decreasing your cortisol output, you lower your stress and stress responses in the body.
  • Improved Cognition: Our mind benefit when we spend time in nature. We can improve our focus, sharpen our attention, and improve our working memory by being in nature. Attention and presence can help you stay positive when you need it most, and can provide a bigger perspective on life.


4 Tips to Improving your Mental Health While in Recovery

If you’re in addiction recovery, spending time in nature means a great deal for your mental health. To get the most out of our time in the outdoors, take these 4 tips and apply them to any outside activity you do.

1: Focus on the sense of peace and calm: A calm moment outside can be a welcome respite from the chaos and stress of everyday life. Getting away from the pressures of a fast-paced life—even if just for 10 minutes—is a good starting point for those in recovery.

2: Remember your sense of connection: With the technology we live with every day, it’s easy to forget our connection to the natural world. But it’s essential for our mental health to remember how interconnected we are with the earth and all living things.

3: Be open to new ideas: It’s easy to let your mind run wild when you have a quiet moment. So let it run! But once it’s done running, be open to new ideas and new ways of looking at things. Fresh air can do wonders for our inspiration.

4: Don’t forget to have fun: More than anything else, don’t forget that nature can simply be a place to have fun. You know better than anyone that recovery is hard work. It can be easy to forget how to enjoy life again. Spending time in nature can help us to remember the simple joys of life.

At Honu House Hawaii, we consider spending time outdoors a key part of your recovery journey. The gorgeous Hawaiian scenery and guided outdoor activities led by our staff provide an ideal environment to heal and recover. To learn more about our treatment programs, reach out to one of our team today.