Imagine yourself sitting on a large rock with you eyes closed. You can feel the sunshine on your face, a light breeze makes your hair sway, and you can hear a babbling brook nearby. Take a deep breath. You can smell the fresh, woodsy air.  When you open your eyes, you’re surrounded by trees that are nearly 100 feet tall and you catch two squirrels chasing each other up one of the large tree trunks.

Do you feel at peace?

Nature has a way of bringing joy and relaxation to the mind and body. When you’re in nature, and feel connected to the world around you, and there’s an undeniable sense of freedom from the things that bog us down in everyday life. Having an escape from the normal stressors in your life is crucial for everyone, but especially those who are recovering from an addiction.

Nature and mental health

Mental health plays a huge role in addiction and recovery. Those with untreated or undiagnosed mental health conditions are more likely to use and abuse substances than those without. Once you’ve addressed an addiction, it’s important to also address any and all mental health issues so that you can stay on the right track to health and happiness.

Giving yourself the chance to focus on nature allows your brain to be distracted from all of the stressful things that are going on in life. Plus, studies show that spending just an hour and a half per week in nature can significantly reduce the activity in the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that is responsible for playing negative thoughts on repeat (rumination).

Furthermore, in September of last year (2019), researchers at the University of Utah concluded that there are definitive connections between nature-based recreation mental well-being. In their study, they found that the most common positive outcomes were:

  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased overall stress
  • Elevated/positive mood

Spending time immersed in nature allows you to bask in the restorative energy that is all around. Every day, the sun rises and sets; flowers bloom and die; animals are born and grow. At its very core, nature is a symbol of renewal and survival against all odds. Even in the face of fire, drought, famine, and predation, nature always finds a way to keep on living – to keep on thriving! For those in recovery, nature can serve as a source of inspiration, if nothing else – proof that everything they need is within them and they, too, can survive even when it seems like the odds are stacked against them.

Therapeutic Wilderness Programs

Therapeutic wilderness programs are essentially guided nature excursions for people in recovery. Typically, the programs are completed in groups so that attendees can foster connections with like-minded people as well as with nature.

Participating in a wilderness program while in recovery from addiction is a great way to remind yourself that you’re more than your addiction, recovery, job, and day-to-day responsibilities. Your energy is connected with all of things and people around you. Tapping into the connection and finding ways to make it stronger can help to make you a more well-rounded and fulfilled individual.

There are many different kinds of activities that one can participate in when they join a wilderness program. Some of them include:

  • Hiking
  • Ziplining
  • Camping
  • “Survival” activities
  • Swimming
  • Fishing

Getting fully immersed in nature, even if it seems scary and unfamiliar, will be more than worth it when you emerge with a different mindset, a new set of skills, and a newfound sense of peace.

Nature and the 12-step program

Step 11 of the 12-step program says, “…sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Throughout history, connecting with nature has been considered a form of meditation and way to improve consciousness with a higher power (whatever that might mean to you). This is especially true in Buddhist and Hindu religions, but even those who are agnostic may feel a sense of connection to a higher power that lies within themselves.

Making time for nature at home

If you’re in recovery and are unable to join a therapeutic wilderness program, there are still plenty of ways that you can reap the benefits of connecting with nature right where you live. All you have to do is seek out the right places:

  • Walk in a quiet neighborhood or down a bike path
  • Find a body of water (no matter how large or small), sit near it and just listen to the flow
  • Walk through a city park
  • Go swimming in a natural body of water
  • Start a backyard garden
  • Volunteer with local conservation organizations
  • Utilize a bicycle rental service
  • Visit a botanical garden

How Chapel Hill can help

If you’re struggling with mental health or have concerns about relapsing, please know that there is always help for you at Chapel Hill. If you have questions or concerns about your addiction or recovery, we have a 100% anonymous, 24/7 helpline that you can call anytime. You are never alone.