About twenty years ago, some of my friends started incorporating nature time into their routines to decrease their stress. It dawned on me that I should get outside too. I made it a goal to spend twenty minutes outside, but was unsure what to do once I got out there.
Over time, I discovered many nature activities and their physical and mental health benefits. While some nature activities, such as gardening and hiking, are more mainstream (for a good reason), there are also some underrated, yet effective ways to get outdoors. Check out these three healthy nature activities you probably haven’t considered!
With greater attention on mental health and emotional wellbeing in recent years, more people are seeking therapy or counseling to deal with life’s ups and downs. In some situations, traditional approaches may not be enough to help a person find their way out of a dark time. The remarkable effects of wilderness therapy programs have been the focus of research for many years.
The aim of wilderness therapy is to remove a person from an environment where there are toxic or dysfunctional relationships, technology overuse, and other choices that are driving the individual to choose high-risk behaviors.
Wilderness Therapy Programs (WTP) are immersive nature-based programs led by highly trained teams of therapists who are also experts in outdoor “survivalist style” experiences. A team consists of mental health clinicians, field instructors, physicians, and activity trainers. As each participant moves through specific tasks and activities, the team provides ongoing assessment, individual goal setting, and personalized assignments to address each participant’s emotional, physical, psychological–and sometimes spiritual–needs.
The WTP places a person in a group environment in which survival and safety are based on cooperation, planning, follow-through, respect, and mutual understanding. The embodied experience of “roughing it” in the wilderness setting allows an individual to actively learn new ways of thinking, coping, and interacting that can encourage the breaking of unhealthy patterns. In the wilderness setting, a person can develop a heightened awareness that allows them to identify the impact that their dysfunctional behaviors could be having on themselves and those around them.
What Happens in Wilderness Therapy?
WTPs allow for profound change in relatively short periods of time, ranging from a few weeks to 30 days and up to 120 days. Activities that are typically part of wilderness therapy vary and can include:
- Fishing (cooking what you catch)
- Canine therapy
- Mountain biking
- High ropes
- Rock climbing
- Ice fishing
- Dog sledding
How does a person Benefit from Wilderness Therapy?
Some of the broader areas of improvement include:
- Developing a greater sense of purpose
- Enhanced self-awareness
- Reduction in delinquent behavior and increase in prosocial behavior
- Reduction in stress, anxiety, depression, and cognitive dissonance
- Enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem
- Improved social relationships
- Improved boundaries in interpersonal relationships
- Physically and emotional wellbeing
Tips for Finding a Wilderness Program
If you are researching a WTP for a loved one, be sure to look for a camp that is based in affirming the worth and dignity of each person, focusing on relationships and is not punitive. Consultants and counselors are available to help place a young person in a program.
Keep in mind: The program will, at some point, not just involve the person attending; close family/loved ones will also need to be involved. It is important to be adaptable and expect that there will be challenges as everyone heals and establishes new, improved relationships.
Horses are magnificent, majestic, and mysterious creatures. Despite their large size, horses often display a gentle nature and an intuitiveness for human emotion and states of mind. The use of horses in therapeutic situations dates back to Ancient Greece (600 BCE). Today, there are several types of equine-assisted therapies in use for the treatment and management of physical and mental health conditions.
Among the health conditions that evidence-based equine therapy has been used for are the following:
- Attention deficit disorders
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Eating Disorders
- Cerebral Palsy
- Developmental disorders
- Down Syndrome
- Traumatic brain injury
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Behavioral disorders
- Physical and emotional trauma
- Problems that arise from experiencing physical or emotional abuse
How Does Equine Assisted Therapy Work?
A premise of Equine Therapy is that horses have similar behaviors with humans, such as social and responsive behaviors, which makes it easy for a patient to create a connection with the horse. The horse’s size commands immediate respect and trust from the person who interacts with it. This is an essential part of the therapy and can often be easier to establish with the horse compared to the time it can take to establish trust with a counselor in therapy.
The horse is a non-judgmental mirror of the person who is working with them. Horses react only to a person’s behavior and emotional state; they are not affected by a patient’s physical appearance, their mistakes, or their past behavior.
A horse has an innate sensitivity to a person’s behavior, emotions, movements, and energy level. The horse can mirror the patient, which helps that person become more self-aware. At the same time, the person can feel validated and acknowledged. These interactions between horse and patient can then be translated by the equine specialist and processed by the individual/group.
Benefits of Equine Therapy
Equine Therapy can help a person strengthen their confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficiency. Working with the horses and through interactions with the people involved in a program, an individual has an opportunity to improve social skills, manage impulses, and learn how to maintain appropriate boundaries.
Types of Therapy with Horses
Understand that each person and circumstance is unique–even if two people have the same medical diagnosis. Additionally, it’s helpful to know that there are several types of equine-assisted therapy programs, each with its own focus. Briefly, these are:
- Therapies Incorporating Equines conducted by licensed mental health professionals in five therapeutic areas: counseling, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychotherapy, and speech-language pathology.
- Therapeutic/Adaptive Horsemanship includes non-therapy services that are adapted from traditional riding disciplines and include adaptive equestrian sport, riding, driving and interactive vaulting.
- Equine-Assisted Learning is offered by certified professionals who may incorporate horses in non-therapy settings such as education, organizations, and personal development.
- Equine-Assisted Services for Veterans is provided by specially-trained equine professionals with programs that serve the unique needs of military personnel and veterans.
If you’d like to learn more about the wild plants and herbs growing in your neck of the woods and you don’t want to carry a pocket guide with you, well, you guessed it: there’s an app for that! When selecting an app, know your needs and be sure you can use the app even without a wifi connection–otherwise, take that paperback pocket guide with you!
Wild Edibles Lite
Wild Edibles, developed by WinterRoot LLC and naturalist Steve Brill, features only plants that grow in temperate climates. The plant selection also focuses on ease of identifying, harvesting, and preparing.
The lite version features 20 plants and the full version features more than 200 plants–which is more than any other app. For each plant there are multiple pictures and up to 14 categories:
- General Info
- How to Spot
- Positive Identification
- Similar Plants
- Similar Plants Explained
- Food Uses
- Medicinal Uses
- Poisonous Lookalikes
The inclusion of recipes for each plant makes this app truly unique compared to others (most, if not all, the recipes are vegan).
As the name suggests, the iNaturalist app focuses on wild plant identification. Snap photos to aid in tree and wildflower identification, and log your findings with your location and notes.
You can also share your observations with a community of other plant and outdoor enthusiasts, making it fun to read and share about unique plants around the world. This free plant identifier is great if you’re looking to casually explore and deepen your appreciation of the natural plant life around you.
This free plant identifier app allows you to snap a photo (or upload photos from your camera roll) and find the plant’s name and species. PlantSnap will let you know whether the plant is endangered or rare, and also suggests basic care tips for your garden and house plants.
You can use the “explore” feature to view snaps from other users around the world, including places like Ecuador, Algeria, and Turkey.
Whether you decide to go herb foraging, try out equine therapy, participate in a wilderness therapy program, or do something else entirely, you will never regret time spent outside. Nature can transform your life if you let it.