It’s that time of year again. It seems to sneak up on us. One minute you’re out enjoying summer and camping with family and friends, and then, boom, the temperatures drop and it’s pumpkin spice flavored everything, EVERYWHERE. Oh, the holidays. A mix of beauty, love, joy … and total chaos.
Every year around this time it can feel like the holidays are closing in on you. You worry about scheduling get-togethers to see both sides of the family. You start a gift list, and worry if you’ve missed someone. And you double-checked budgets and schedules. It can seem overwhelming for sure.
But hope is right outside the door. Getting outside into nature has never been as important as it is at this time, so put down that to-do list, layer up and head outside.
1. Increased energy
Are you feeling exhausted lately? Are you drained of all energy and motivation? According to the University of Rochester, “In recent years, numerous experimental psychology studies have linked exposure to nature with increased energy and heightened sense of well-being. For example, research has shown that people on wilderness excursions report feeling more alive and that just recalling outdoor experiences increases feelings of happiness and health. Other studies suggest that the very presence of nature helps to ward off feelings of exhaustion and that 90 percent of people report increased energy when placed in outdoor activities.” So give yourself a gift this year and head out on a hike to replenish your mental and physical energy.
2. Disconnect from technology
The next time you head out for a hike, leave the phone behind. Spending time outside in nature can disconnect you from technology, which has a huge list of benefits all its own. It is good for your soul to connect with nature without the distraction of a smartphone. You can clear your mind and bask in the beauty around you.
3. Increase the sunshine vitamin
Spending time outside increases your vitamin D intake, which can benefit your mind, body and soul. The holistic benefits of vitamin D are especially needed during the winter months when many people in cooler places can experience a deficiency that can contribute to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, it can boost your immune system, your mood and so much more.
4. Lower your blood pressure
Does the thought of all your family under one roof stress you out? Is your mind consumed with the possibility of your crazy Aunt Sally and your equally insane Cousin Joe arguing over Grandma Esther’s will dinner? Can you feel your blood pressure rising just thinking about it? Head out to your local trail, take a deep breath and start walking. According to medicalnewstoday.com, “Exercise is one of the best things you can do to lower high blood pressure.”
5. Improved mood
The combination of the holiday stress and the changing seasons can have a compound effect on your mood and feelings. According to mentalhealthamerica.net, “In a given year, about 5 percent of the U.S. population experiences seasonal depression.” Additionally, shorter and colder days in winter often make it less motivating for us to get outside as well. However, making that effort can be a game changer in your mental state. A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Essex and published by the mental health organization Mind found that 69% of research participants, who spent more time outside during the project, felt an improved sense of well-being. So head outside and get yourself some nature therapy. Your brain will thank you.
6. Boost your immune system
With the changing of the seasons comes cold and flu season. Doing everything you can to stay healthy and on your holiday game means keeping your immune system working at its best. One of the best ways to do that is to head outdoors. An article at hyberbiotics.com states that your microbiome and your immune system have a close relationship: since 80% of your immune system is located in your gut, the healthier your gut microbiome is, the better your immunity tends to be and vice versa. Part of this has to do with your body switching into “rest and digest” mode, which it does when you’re relaxed and surrounded by nature. When your body gets into this mode, it focuses on bodily functions that tend to get shoved to the side when you’re in “fight or flight” mode, like your immune system.
7. It keeps you mindful
Being outside enjoying nature can keep you present. Walking can be a form of meditation when you’re outside on a hike. The focus on your breathing, your next step, the trees, streams and all-around natural beauty around you helps keep your mind in a state of awareness. This can help keep your mind clear and present during the holiday hustle and bustle and have long-lasting effects on your soul’s well-being as well.
8. Increase mental clarity
Are you constantly worried about forgetting someone in the gift giving? Constantly stressed about possibly forgetting Aunt Mabel at the airport on Christmas Eve? You just might need to take some steps to increase your mental clarity during the busiest time of the year. Did you know that nature can help you do just that? An article from the University of Minnesota states, “Time in nature or viewing nature scenes increases our ability to pay attention. Because humans find nature inherently interesting, we can naturally focus on what we are experiencing out in nature. This also provides a respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks.”
9. Regain perspective
Getting outside away from the chaos can help keep everything in perspective. If you find that even the smallest of tasks that need to be done are becoming mountains that you feel like you just can’t climb, then head outdoors and immerse yourself in the middle of grand trees. Surround yourself with majestic waterfalls and critters scurrying about. You’ll realize just how small we are in the grand scheme of things and how good it is for your soul. Let go of the stress, of the worry, of the chaos, and just be.
10. It’s fun!
The range of activities that one can do outside is endless. Hiking, sledding, walking, running, mountain biking, climbing, the list can go on and on. So many fun and exciting things can be done in the fresh air of nature. Accomplishing goals of summiting peaks or finishing a challenging trail run can boost your confidence and give you a sense of accomplishment.
During the winter months, getting outdoors can give you a sense of joy and contentment that eludes many during this time of year. While we tend to focus on others during the holidays, it is so important that we take the time to care for our minds, bodies and souls as well. Making sure that you plan time to get out into nature can be the best decision you can make for your personal health and wellness this season and all year long.
What are some ways you practice self-care during this season or any other time of year? Let us know in the comments below!
Photos by Kim Ives and Kendra Reeder