Connecting with the Natural World
Have you ever taken a walk in the woods, hiked a mountain trail, or sat on a beach watching the waves roll onto the shore?
If you have, you may have felt a sense of calm and peace enveloping you. Spending time in nature is a pleasurable activity that provides a sense of well-being, a feeling of freedom and a connection to the earth.
The Healing Power of Nature in Addiction Recovery
Nature has a healing power that cannot be explained. The natural light, the fresh air, the breeze, the sounds, and the stillness are uplifting. They provide a healing balance that restores and nurtures our mind, body and soul. In addition to the overall health benefits of spending time outdoors, there are specific benefits for individuals in recovery from substance abuse addiction.
A Sense of Renewal and New Beginnings
From the sun rising each morning bringing a new day to the renewed cycle of life each spring, new beginnings are found throughout nature. Even after the devastation from fire, flood, or other types of disasters, the power of nature finds a way to recover so life can continue by restoring and rebuilding itself. Nature is an example of life and recovery. By incorporating nature into their recovery process, those devastated by addiction can feel the sense of renewed life, a new beginning, and a fresh new start.
A Mental Health Boost
Whether you lay in a hammock and watch the clouds go by, take a bike ride, or go for a walk, spending time in nature is good for your mental health. Even a short time spent outside reduces stress levels and calms the mind. Studies show that people feel most connected to themselves and at rest when they are viewing something in nature. This is called a peak experience.
Spending time outside also decreases depression and rumination. Rumination, which often leads to depression, is the constant reference to negative memories, thoughts, and emotions. It leads to increased frustration and anxiety, a loss of motivation, and social isolation.
Physical Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
Being out in nature is a natural way for a person in recovery from a substance abuse addiction to experience feelings of pleasure and a sense of well-being. The exercise helps the brain to increase the production of endorphins, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Since these chemicals are produced without the use of drugs or alcohol, the time spent outdoors helps the brain to re-learn the appropriate ways to experience pleasurable feelings.
The following are several of the additional benefits that nature provides to individuals in addiction recovery:
- Boosts the immune system
- Increases the serotonin levels in the brain with exposure to sunlight
- Combats sleep deprivation by helping to regulate our biological clock
- Creates a sense of humility
- Provides the quiet time needed for healthy reflection and introspection
- Offers time to help repattern the brain into more selfless thought
The Importance of Balance
An article in Psychology Today by Sarah A. Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC explains how balance is the key to recovery and life in general. She goes on to describe how important it is for our body, mind, and spirit to have nature in our lives to balance the high-tech world we live in.
She references the book The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age by Richard Louv. In his book, Louv explains that Vitamin “N” (nature) should be in everyone’s diet and that nature provides healing for our mind and body. Louv also states, “Some of our society’s hunger for drugs may be related to our yearning for this unified state of mind, body, and nature”.
When people use drugs or alcohol, their senses are shut down and they are not connected to their environment. When a person experiences a healthy recovery, their senses are awakened and they are mindful of their surroundings.
A Final Thought on the Power of Nature in Addiction Recovery
Well known naturalist, author, and environmental philosopher John Muir described the power of nature in this way: “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves”.
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