Many people that struggle with depression have tried a myriad of ways to manage it:
Some have tried the frequently suggested “boot strap” approach. You know, pick yourself up by the bootstraps and forge ahead. As if willing your way to work or school will cause the depression to just go away.
Now I am not suggesting that moving forward in a determined fashion isn’t a good idea. In fact, I believe that it can help and am a huge proponent of putting your best effort on the table. What I am suggesting is that there might be an overall better way. A way that you may not have not have considered as viable for you (0r your spouse or family member that struggles with depression). What is it?
It involves Healing Outdoors.
It involves making a concerted effort to be outside in Utah’s wondrous outdoors. It involves actually enjoying it.
Understanding that depression is difficult to manage or treat, I provide these 5 hopeful ways to beat depression outdoors.
#1) Get Outside in the Garden and Yard
People that enjoy fresh garden vegetables on a warm day already know what I’m talking about. Having a delicious, juicy slice of tomato on your BLT is amazing. What we may not understand is the journey of planting, watering, fertilizing, and harvesting these vegetables can help you beat back your depression. Just being outside is critical. However, there is a growing amount of evidence that suggests getting your hands in the soil is in its own right an anti-depressant. Microbes in the soil that a gardener touches can lower depression by increasing the serotonin levels in their brain. No kidding! Getting dirty in the garden actually has an amazing purpose.
Oh, and don’t overlook raking leaves in October, shoveling some of the greatest snow on earth in January, or spring cleaning outdoors in April. They will all help with enhancing your mood. Try it!
#2) Go for a Walk
Getting outside and going for a walk is wonderful. Getting outside to amp up your mood and lower depression is a potential great benefit. Walk with a friend. Walk with your spouse. Walk to clear your head. In fact, just walking the dog around the block can all have excellent mood benefits. Depending on your level of health, walking up a slope will likely have more benefits for your overall physical health. And, recent research published in Men’s Fitness magazine suggests that walking can help you overcome depressive symptoms.
#3) Go Running
I actually don’t recall the first time I heard the phrase “runners high.” I do know that it was many years ago likely when I was a teenager. The phrase intrigued me as I struggled to gage its true meaning. It’s a feeling that that those that run consistently get often. A feeling of exhilaration that can seem almost euphoric. In fact, when you combine running with the backcountry trail, the feeling of positivity is likely only increased. What a great reason to get out and run@ On the trail or even in the city, you’ll benefit. The key is actually building to it gradually…then becoming consistent.
#4) Get Some Sun on your Face
Getting sun on our face and body responsibly can really help lift your mood. How do we know this? Here’s a great example: During January, many of us don’t like the cold, don’t necessarily like the snow, and absolutely hate the inversion. As a result, we tend to hole up inside on the couch just counting the days until spring arrives. This causes us to feel even more down as we neglect our self-care. I’ve advised clients for many years to get outside in January to fight these lethargic, depressive, or sedentary feelings. Those that get out in July as well as in January tend to feel better, watch the calendar less, and don’t complain as much about Salt Lake City’s seemingly endless winters.
#5) Get Outside and Hike
While I absolutely love gardening, my absolute favorite is hitting a backcountry trail. How about you? It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is. I snowshoe in January in Big Cottonwood Canyon and then seek out the last snowfield on Mt Timponogas in August. Seeing moose, deer, and mountain goats is an amazing plus on many of my hikes.
There is also evidence that hiking in the mountains will help improve your mood. This includes reducing anxiety and mitigating one’s tendency to ruminate. Further, although the evidence can be somewhat anecdotal, seeing nature’s beauty on a regular basis can assist in lowering depression. In fact, one Stanford University study (2015) found that being outside in nature yielded measurable mental (health) benefits and may actually reduce the risk of depression. Nice!
And this makes total sense when you’re standing next to a roaring creek watching a moose family across the meadow. Or when the July wildflowers set against a mountain snowfield seem to call to your camera to capture that amazing and yet elusive moment. Just being in nature can absolutely amaze you, and not surprisingly, also help balance your mind and mood.
What’s Next, Michael?!
For me, items 1, 4 and 5 just resonate. Being outside gardening, hiking, getting sun on my face…just does it for me. What could potentially do it for you? Simply choose 1-2 items from these 5 that you believe you can do, then just do it today. Start gradually and then build. The mantra of start small and build is a great formula for success. Good luck! I absolutely look forward to seeing you Heal Outdoors!
Michael Boman, LCSW is a clinical therapist for Wasatch Family Therapy in Cottonwood Heights. Michael provides therapy outdoors on amazing Wasatch Mountain hiking trails. His Healing Outdoors trail focused therapy is wonderful. To schedule a session with Michael to begin Healing Outdoors, please email him at MichaelBoman@wasatchfamilytherapy.com