Colorado is well known for year-round recreation; it encourages many of us to live in this part of the country. However, when summer settles into our mountain communities, the urge to get outside calls even louder and brings many of us to the outdoors. It makes sense that as the snow melts and the rivers rise, summer becomes the perfect time to get out there, breathe it all in, and enjoy the world around us.
The Outdoors and your Mental Health
Healthy outdoor recreation has various effects on us—from staying physically fit to building relationships with family and friends. However, we often forget about how important experiencing the outdoors can be for our mental health.
There are a variety of mental wellness benefits that are associated with being outdoors. Just being outside can:
- Lower risk of depression
- Increase stress recovery
- Restore strength in our mental capacities
- Increase focus and attention
- Boost your mood
Certain aspects of the outdoors are specifically shown to improve your frame of mind. Sunlight, for instance, has a positive impact on how you are feeling. Studies have shown that people’s brains have higher serotonin levels on bright sunny days, even when it’s cold out. Serotonin is your body’s natural mood stabilizer, meaning a little sunlight can go a long way to reduce sadness or anxiety. UV light also encourages melanocytes, the cells that produce skin pigments, to release endorphins, which boosts your mood.
Outdoor Recreation and your Mental Health
While just being outside can be a mental health boost itself, when you add recreation in the mix, you are taking a much stronger action to increase your own psychological and physical health.
Most outdoor recreation involves some form of exercise—which we all know makes us feel better, mentally and physically. Exercise can help reduce blood pressure, a common symptom of stress and anxiety issues. However, exercise notably releases endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemical.
Outdoor recreation opportunities are just plain fun and bring us a true sense of joy. When you pair these activities with family and friends, you also get the added benefit of social connection, which helps us all stay grounded and feel supported.
Ideas to Increase your Outdoor Recreation
Sometimes one of the hardest things is making time for recreation, especially in such a busy world. Here are some simple ideas to increase your time outdoors:
Walk or bike to work – Give it a shot if you are close enough to switch up your commute. Even if you only do it once or twice a week, the change would give you increased time outside to observe and enjoy the world around you.
Take a walk instead of a lunch break – Pack lunch rather than take the time to go out and spend part of your lunch break taking a walk. Go down to the park or walk around your building or neighborhood.
Start an outdoor-based hobby – Pick a new hobby that gets you outside, hiking or gardening, for example. Or take a current hobby that you do inside, maybe painting, yoga, or reading, and set up a space where you can enjoy it outdoors.
Picnic – Take dinner or lunch outside for a change. Go to a park, eat in your backyard, whatever works for you.
Enjoy the night sky – Take a moment to step outside and enjoy the beautiful atmosphere; it’s an excellent (and quick) opportunity to feel connected to nature and enjoy the moment—making stargazing a fantastic stress reliever.
Check out local recreation opportunities – The Montrose Recreation District, Gunnison Parks and Recreation, and Delta Parks and Recreation are excellent resources to get yourself or your kids involved in an outdoor recreation opportunity.
Exercise and the outdoors can positively impact our mental health, yet we often forget about this resource, even if it is right outside our front doors. This summer is a perfect opportunity to increase your outdoor recreation time and enjoy the mental wellness benefits recreation in our beautiful area allows.
If you are struggling with depression in Colorado, Axis can connect you with treatment.
If you live in Hinsdale, Montrose, Delta, Gunnison, San Miguel, or Ouray County, call 970.252.3200 to get started today on the path to your best life.
If you live in Southwest Colorado, contact the location nearest you: https://www.axishealthsystem.org/locations/.
If you need help now, call the Colorado Crisis Line or contact Axis at 970.246.5245.
If you need mental health services or treatment : https://www.axishealthsystem.org/treatment-services/mental-health/
Jenny Wheeler is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and therapist in San Miguel County. She is trained in DBT, motivational interviewing, and group therapy. She enjoys working with clients of all ages facing a variety of issues. Jenny has a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Denver’s Four Corners Program, focusing on meeting the needs of rural and tribal communities.