“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” — John Muir
I hike a lot. Most weekends I drive north to the Adirondack Mountains, or occasionally south to the Catskills. When the weather is questionable I stay closer to Albany and wander around a local park. Like everyone else, the pandemic messed up my routine. I kept hiking, but not further than 30 minutes from my house, per the CDC and NY State Department of Environmental Conversation’s guidelines of “recreate local.”
However, by mid-July 2020, I decided to drive up to the central Adirondacks for the first time since February, and hike a mountain. A small mountain, only half a mile and 570 ft of elevation gain from trailhead to summit.
When I made it to the top I set down my bag, chugged some water, sat down, and cried. Not because of any physical pain, not because the sun was burning, and not because the hike was particularly challenging. I looked out towards all the other mountains and felt the weight of the last handful of months slide right off my shoulders. Every ounce of stress and tension washed away. I felt genuinely relaxed for the first time since mid-March.
I have always known that nature has incredible benefits to mental health, but that moment removed any doubt that the outdoors are a source of relaxation.
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It’s no question that the past year has been, and continues to be, incredibly stressful. Everyone found various ways to cope with our new reality; zoom happy hours with friends, virtual yoga classes, baking sourdough bread (or any other type of baked good), reading all the books on your “to-read” list, or binging everything on Netflix. I spend more time outdoors. After work, whether in the office or working from home, I go for a walk. The more stressful the day, the longer the walk. On the weekends I hike, or kayak when it’s warm enough out.
Research shows that spending time outdoors and in nature reduces stress and anxiety, elevates your mood, rests your mind, as well as improves your physical health, and even increases self-esteem. This concept of “ecotherapy,” or nature therapy, can be brought indoors too; natural light and nature sounds can have similar positive effects to being outdoors. Spending just 2–30 minutes a day in nature can significantly improve overall well-being. You don’t even have to go to the mountains, you can simply walk around the block, maybe with some nature sounds playing in your headphones. Or have a picnic in the park. Or play catch in the backyard. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll feel a lot better afterward.
And that my friends, is the Power of Nature.
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