As I write this, I am at the tail end of a trip that has taken a lot of emotional energy. Last night as I was coming home, sitting on the subway, I felt trapped. Overwhelmed. Small and powerless. I felt alone, because even closest friends get tired of hearing about your 20th existential crisis of the week. Coping with mental health is a bit like mountaineering- though you’re roped together as a team, you have to know how to self-arrest.
Wearily, I plugged in my headphones, closed my eyes, and detached.
The sounds of raindrops and fire crackles drowned out the subway clatter and I felt my blood pressure dropping and my chest loosening. Scientists and writers have only recently started publishing what parents of young children and overworked adults have known for years: nature cures. The sight, smell, touch, sound, and experience of the nature decreases blood pressure, relaxes fatigued bodies, and increases dopamine levels. Experiencing nature can make you feel relaxed, aware, and calm. Nature doesn’t judge you for your productivity. All it asks is that you exist.
In short, it’s the perfect therapist for folks struggling with mental health issues.
Listening to an iPhone app that plays the sounds of water and fire is a great way to cope, but the lessons here are bigger:
Learn to self-arrest. To continue the mountaineering analogy, a strong team is made up of confident, self-aware people who know when to ask for help but can support themselves. Your life may feel like it’s at stake during a panic attack, but remember to use the tools that are given to you. A key part of supporting someone who is struggling is to offer them tools for their own self-rescue and a sturdy hand when they need it. Even the most supportive and loving people can not be expected to drag you out of every crevasse you fall into.
Get outside, or find a way to get the outside to you. The pine trees don’t care if you’re struggling to breathe. They’ll shade you either way.
And most importantly: realize that though your anxiety may feel like an overwhelming part of your character, it doesn’t define you.
It’s raining where I am. Getting out of the subway, I walked the width of a park, listening to a city soothe itself in the darkness. I took my headphones out. The evening sounded like birds.
If you like talking about mental health and the outdoors, head on over to the She Explores podcast, which explores complex issues around women in the outdoors. This week, they’re featuring an episode that deals with mental health- honest conversations, scientific research, and real women living their lives. I am thrilled and humbled to be featured alongside Florence Williams, the author of the Outside Online article linked above and whose incredible new book The Nature Fix is a must-read for anyone who considers spending time outdoors important.
Much love! xx
April 5, 2017