The smell of fresh air, the sound of birds chirping and the touch of a gentle breeze: nature has always been captivating. There is something powerful about being outdoors that creates a sense of freedom not found elsewhere. Nature therapy is beneficial for people from all walks of life but can be especially helpful to those recovering from addiction to drugs or alcohol. Being outdoors not only promotes physical health, but the clean air, open skies and sunlight also encourage spiritual and psychological strength. As society modernizes, we begin to lose the connection to nature that past generations have always known and with it the balance and sense of well-being that a natural setting can provide. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reviewed several studies showing the health and wellness benefits of nature, which included many positive psychological and cognitive effects such as:
- Increased self-esteem
- Improved mood
- Reduced stress and anger
- Increased ability to handle mentally challenging tasks
- Improved quality and frequency of social interactions
- Lowered mortality rates
Exposure to nature can also encourage positive emotions and improve one’s ability to reflect on problems and challenges in life. Nature exposure in addiction therapy has proven particularly beneficial for those recovering from substance abuse, especially when underlying disorders such as depression, anxiety and trauma-related stress drive addictive behaviors.
1. Reduce Stress & Anxiety
When it comes to addiction, stress and anxiety can play a significant role. The constant pressure, daily routine and seemingly endless demands and responsibilities of everyday life produce a lot of strain, and many often self-medicate in an attempt to escape. For most, the symptoms of stress and anxiety worsen as substance use increases, perpetuating an unhealthy and destructive cycle. Getting out into nature can break the cycle by providing an opportunity to unwind and relax, encouraging moments of self-awareness and reflection that provide a stable foundation on which to build a sober life. Studies have shown that just 30 minutes spent outdoors can reduce stress and anxiety, improving mood, happiness and resilience. Achieving sobriety is not an easy task that may seem overwhelming at times. Nature is a healing force that combats the mental fatigue and exhaustion some feel when fighting to overcome an addiction, helping them remain strong and disciplined.
2. Restore Balance & Create Awareness
Drugs and alcohol have a powerful, isolating effect that separates us not only from our friends and family but from ourselves as well. The urgency of addiction causes a disconnect that creates tension between the inner and outer self. Due to this, we are often unaware of the consequences of our actions and may hurt the people in our lives without realizing it. We may also engage in behaviors that don’t align with our beliefs and values. In short, our internal compass can go haywire, resulting in emotional conflict and inner strife. This unbalances us and detaches us from ourselves and others; we become unable to look at ourselves honestly and lack perspective on our behaviors.
This rift must be mended before we can truly begin to heal. Nature provides an ideal environment for reflection and awareness, creating mental well-being that calms the mind and allows a sense of connection to one’s self and surroundings to develop. The calming effect of being outdoors is reassuring for those in treatment, helping us to remember that we are part of something bigger. Nature reminds us that new beginnings are not only possible, but inevitable. This awareness can relieve the tension of inner conflict and resolve the clash between our values and actions, restoring balance in a therapeutic and healthy way. At The Last Resort, we understand that connectedness is essential to a sustainable recovery, allowing patients to confront themselves honestly so the deepest wounds may begin to heal.
3. Self-reliance & Independence
Spending time in nature connects us to a primal, fundamental part of ourselves. The wilderness is the perfect setting to help those in treatment rediscover their self-worth by learning new skills, becoming self-sufficient and helping others. By being in nature, we can improve our sense of independence, build problem-solving skills and open ourselves up to the power of vulnerability. Throughout history, spiritual teachers and leaders have retreated to the wilderness to discover purpose and meaning, ultimately preparing for the road ahead. At The Last Resort, we have developed a rite of passage with a similar purpose. The Braveheart Experience is an intense, transformational wilderness journey that allows men to honestly assess their character and develop a deeper understanding of their hopes, fears and needs in an environment that is free of distractions. The Braveheart Experience is a turning point that allows men to transition into a healthier, sober life by leaving bad habits and negativity behind.
4. Fitness & Exercise
The physical benefits of spending time in nature are numerous. Being outdoors is a pleasurable experience that is great for mental and spiritual health, but also encourages exercise and other healthy habits. Hiking, biking and other outdoor activities naturally produce feel-good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, which helps those in treatment rediscover healthy, appropriate ways to experience pleasure. Exercise also helps patients process difficult emotions, add structure to the day and combat symptoms of depression and withdrawal. Additionally, being active may provide a confidence boost. Feeling good about yourself is an important part of recovery because low self-esteem can undermine the development of healthy, positive behaviors.
Being outdoors can also help your body heal by repairing some of the damage sustained from prolonged exposure to drugs and alcohol. Regular exercise can:
- Reduce blood pressure
- Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- Stimulate the immune system
- Raise your energy levels
- Increase the production of feel-good hormones
- Improve memory and brain function
- Help regulate sleep cycles
Together, the benefits of exercise and outdoor activity contribute to the development of healthier habits and a healthier you, resulting in a more comprehensive, sustainable recovery.
5. Alleviate Withdrawal
The physical and mental benefits of establishing a connection to nature can also help those in recovery by providing relief from withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from drugs and alcohol occurs when you abruptly stop taking a substance. Although symptoms vary depending on several factors, there are some commonalities such as anxiety, depression, restlessness, cravings and disrupted sleep. Since spending time outdoors already addresses many of these issues, exposure to nature can help ease withdrawal as well. Nature has a calming effect that has been proven to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression, but can also help shift focus from withdrawal symptoms by providing a distraction. Being in nature has a curative effect that may reduce the severity and length of withdrawal, helping you naturally feel better.
Recovery is not easy. It is a difficult process that requires strength, effort and commitment. For even the most dedicated, the twists and turns of addiction recovery can take their toll. At The Last Resort, a key part of our success comes from helping men in recovery navigate these difficulties with outdoor activities and exposure to nature. Our over 50 acres of ranch land and rolling hills provide unparalleled access to natural beauty and an immersive, distraction-free environment when men can recover. If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction, let us be your recovery support. To find out more about our treatment programs in Austin, Texas, contact The Last Resort at 877-287-0785 today.