Is life smothering you? Come up, get some fresh air in nature

Do you ever feel as if you are smothering? Are you suffering from anxiety or depression? You’re not alone.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that anxiety disorders affect some 40 million adults in the United States. The World Health Organization says that some 350 million people worldwide have depression.

You are not alone.

What can you do? First, if you are overwhelmed by feelings of depression and want to bring harm to yourself or someone else, you should seek professional help. There are people available 24/7 to support you confidentially and free. Everyone hurts. Everyone gets down once in a while but you do not have to be alone. Second, find a healthy way to release that which bothers you.

Over the past several years, people have been finding solace in the great outdoors. Organizations, such as the non-profit Warrior Expeditions, have come together to share the therapeutic benefits of being outdoors with struggling combat veterans.

As a U.S. Army infantryman, the great outdoors was often a love/hate relationship. Honestly, it all depended on leadership as to how enjoyable or not those forced government-sponsored camping trips were. But in the civilian world, I was able to find solace outdoors whether backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, day hiking, or camping just for the night. There is something about the stillness of the woods and how time almost freezes. It takes away the distractions of the world and allows you to see the beauty of creation all around us but also, make peace with yourself.

Do not think that you have to jump all in and do the whole Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or some other months-long journey. Plan a weekend or two-day trip. Start small but keep at it and let that inner desire to be at peace with nature and self birth.

Studies have shown that nature is a quantifiable key to good mental health. If you live in an urban environment, look for your closest parks and other natural areas.

A study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.

“These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “Our findings can help inform the growing movement worldwide to make cities more livable, and to make nature more accessible to all who live in them.”

It does not have to be 2180 miles big to experience the rewards of nature. You do not have to do it alone either. You get the same benefits in groups according to another university study.

Group walks in nature were associated with significantly lower depression, perceived stress, and negative affect, as well as enhanced positive affect and mental well-being, both before and after controlling for covariates. There were no group differences on social support. In addition, nature-based group walks appear to mitigate the effects of stressful life events on perceived stress and negative affect while synergizing with physical activity to improve positive affect and mental well-being.

Nature is calling. Find the healthier you.

We can also help each other by supporting nature conservation efforts all around us. Non-profit organizations such as the National Park Foundation help preserve our national parks.  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy helps maintain the 2180 miles of the Appalachian Trail. These and other organizations raise funds and volunteers to help preserve these natural areas. This is not about tree hugging but about taking care of what can help take care of you and someone that you love.

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