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Great Outdoors are a Great Resource in Recovery

March 22, 2021

Being outdoors is a calming and healing experience. Going on a hike, sitting by a river, or looking at the stars can provide a person with a feeling of tranquility that can help ease anxiety and stress.

Outdoor therapy for people in addiction recovery is the idea that spending time in the outdoors can offer the benefit of a new outlet for self-discovery. If a person is suffering from addiction, outdoor therapy is another tool on the path to recovery. Although spending time outdoors won’t cure a substance use disorder on its own, making the effort to spend more time in nature offers some important benefits for people in recovery.

Benefits of spending time outdoors

Addiction recovery is a lifelong pursuit. Recovery requires a multifaceted approach focusing on a person’s mental, physical and emotional health. By spending time in the outdoors, holistic benefits include: reduced depression, improved physical fitness, better sleep, enhanced cognitive function, opportunities to build relationships and decreased risk of relapse.

When a person is in nature, stress is processed differently, and it can become more manageable. Being in nature allows a person to get away from anxiety-inducing environments and over stimulating situations. Stepping away from stress triggers helps reduce the chances a person will relapse. 

Activities you can do in nature

Consider moving exercise activities normally conducted in a gym outdoors. In addition to the strength training and/or cardiovascular benefits of the exercises themselves, patients exercising outside benefit from fresh air and vitamin D from the sun, which can help boost immune system functions. Opioids and other illicit substances can diminish the immune system and lead to infections and other illnesses. Outdoor activities can help counteract this, helping the immune system to begin to repair itself and become stronger.

Combating boredom is another major issue for individuals in recovery and is a common cause of relapse. Boredom can be combated by starting a new outdoor hobby. Skiing, mountain biking, hiking, fishing and photography are all great ways to get outside. Once a person has begun getting out in nature, they will begin feeling less anxious and less stressed. Stress reduction is part of the outdoor experience. Being stressed will make a person in recovery more vulnerable to relapse. By getting outdoors a person can feel a sense of accomplishment for the day and begin healing in a natural way.

Having a support group

A support group of friends and family is invaluable in the recovery journey. Often when a person is in the midst of addiction, relationships with parents, siblings and friends are pushed to the limit. Many times, family members can feel that cutting off the person is the only thing left they can do to help them. Once a person enters recovery, re-establishing broken relationships can be beneficial for that person’s overall recovery experience. One way to do this is by participating in outdoor activities with the person in recovery. Taking walks, hiking, riding bikes together, or even fishing together can help rebuild trust and provide accountability for the person.

Making outdoor activities a priority in recovery will encourage sobriety and improve physical, mental and emotional health. Whether it’s a short walk, gardening or even a long rafting trip, getting out of the house can help patients embrace all of the benefits the outdoors can offer them in recovery.

Roy DuPrez is the founder of Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Recovery, an outdoor adventure recovery program for young males aged 18-30 with substance use disorders.

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