Depression combines pervasive spiritual exhaustion with a plethora of physical symptoms. It is both one of the largest causes of disability around the world, as well as one of the most common mental health problems in the U.S.
There are several treatment options available, many are focused on medication and altering brain chemistry. Today, we are here to talk about a less mainstream treatment option: regular walks and hikes among nature.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, major depressive disorder refers to a constant state of low or depressed moods, lasting for at least two months. Depression can affect your performance at work or school, disrupt your sleep, and rob you of the pleasure of doing things you used to love.
In some people, depression manifests as a sharp, noticeable change from the way things used to be – an acute episode. However, other people can present milder, more discreet symptoms that last for years. This is known as dysthymia, and it can be particularly resistant to treatment.
Usually, doctors treat depression with antidepressant medication and psychiatric therapy appointments, or a combination of both, but there are additional alternative options that may be worth trying, or at least considering, prior to medication.
Lifestyle changes, such as frequent walks in the woods, on the beach, or any natural outdoor space near your home, even a park can make a positive change to whole body health. Spending time in close contact with nature can make a difference thanks to three specific elements. These elements work independently but are more powerful when combined.
1.The effect of being surrounded by plants and natural landscapes
Just being close to nature, rather than surrounded by man-made structures, can help us lower our stress levels and induce feelings of thought and contentment. A study published in 2019 showed that this effect was particularly strong in “green and blue landscapes”, such as countryside hills, woods, beaches, and rivers.
If you are still at the point where the dark fog feels too crushing for a trip, you can start small. Access to just a small corner of greenery can provide benefits: an older study showed that hospitalized patients who had plants in their rooms required fewer painkillers while recovering from surgery.
2. The effect of physical activity
While “forest bathing” can provide some benefits by itself, a good trek in the woods should also get your heart pumping. This only adds to its prowess: the link between exercise and “feel good” endorphin production is well-documented and widely-known.
Any activity that raises your heart rate can help take your mind off worrying concerns and elevate your moods for a few hours afterwards. In addition, a more consistent regiment of 20 to 40 minutes of cardiovascular activity (anywhere between brisk walking to jogging) three times a week can significantly diminish symptoms of moderate depression, and help them stay away even after finishing talk therapy.
3. The effect of sunlight
Finally, a quick trek in a nature trail will also put you underneath sunny skies. In turn, this will boost your vitamin D production, and help improve “possible” symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.
Traditionally, we associate lack of sunlight with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people in extreme latitudes during the winter due to lack of vitamin D. However, numerous studies show that vitamin D deficiencies are much more widespread than we thought. The demands of city life and office work can make sunlight scarce year-round, which in turn cause our moods to turn sour.
When combined with the natural beauty around you, plus the hike to get there, spending some time under the sun can have strong therapeutic impacts.
Some may not be able to get access to the Vitamin D provided by the sun, if this is the case, you can take a Vitamin D supplement. I prefer to use Cataplex D, available (here) Jen.Standardprocess.com. Small amounts on a regular basis will support mood, anxiety, depression and even provide an immune boost.
If you are in crisis, there is help out there. The path to recovery is a long one – and especially during its early stages, it is likely that you won’t feel up to planning an outdoor adventure. Start with small steps and quick walks in a local park. Talk to a professional and work out a plan to involve nature, fresh air, and sunshine into your treatment from the very start.
And if things feel too grim or too crushing, or if you begin to feel hopeless and considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.