From Crappy to Happy

Exploring Nature Can Help You Cope

By Stephanie Jiménez, Allegheny Land Trust Intern

Winter. Cloudy skies, dirty slush all over the place, hard to drive through snow...and it’s cold. It’s no wonder many people’s depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses or disorders rev up during this season. For some of us, it’s as if the dreary winter scene triggers our inner hibernation—as if we’ve evolved little from our fellow black bears and chipmunks. Not to mention out tireless work catching up with us right before the ever-creeping holiday season. Regardless of how much you’d like to give in to that inner hibernating box turtle instinct, winter is not a season to miss. It’s time to remember that the very nature around you—regardless of the season—can help you cope with the worst.

Google the health benefits of being outside. Because of the ever-decreasing amount of green space available to us, living in an urbanized environment reduces the opportunity and benefit from time outdoors. Not only do we spend much less time outside year-round than our ancestors did, but this fact is amplified in the winter months in our geographical area. Spending lots of time indoors might worsen pre-existing health conditions and even bring on the onset of new ones. Companies, like REI, have started a hashtag trend, #optoutside, to encourage people to achieve natural happiness rather than consumer happiness during the holiday season. Opting outside can help you achieve basic health benefits, including lowering cortisol levels, rumination,and negative feelings, increasing mental ability and cognitive skills, developing a sense of grounding, sharpening your memory, and even helping develop your creative mind… not tomention absorbing Vitamin D, which is a common human deficiency. Imagine achieving all these health benefits by simply taking a walk outside or sitting under a tree.

At the very least, try new methods of coping with whatever events, illnesses, or anxieties are plaguing you. But you ask, “How exactly can I use a drowsy winter to my benefit?” These months may appear desolate, but there is much to see and do right in your own backyard. Take Wingfield Pines for example, with its 87 acres of green space, a creek, an amazing abandoned mine drainage restoration area, and a multitude of species to search for. Pets are allowed in some areas. Play a game, geocache, join an Allegheny Land Trust (ALT) program, or increase your spirituality and pray. For example, I hike with my dog once a week through rain or snow, andtake relaxation time to sit on an overhanging rock that has a beautiful view. After my respite, I race my dog down to the wetlands trail.

Maybe a routine would do you good—a quick jog or relaxing under a tree every day. Maybe this routine provides initiative and determination to see something through. “I braved the 20-degree weather and took a stroll” is pretty impressive if you ask me! Or maybe you’d like to try nature-therapy, a mindful walk through green space that grounds your senses to the living and non-living things around you. You meditate, observe, listen, breath, touch, and appreciate what lives outside of you.

Before venturing out, be well-prepared. Layer your clothing and have good socks and gloves. Cover your nose, wear good hiking boots, bring hand warmers, snacks, and water, and bring your kids. Always head back when you begin to feel too cold or numb. A bit of preparation can keep you safe!

Join the movement of people taking advantage of this free therapy and connect with nature. We, as human beings, are connected to the air, water, plants, and animals around us; so much so, that simply interacting with a healthy environment (even in the winter) has the effects of making us calmer and healthier.

Of course, we can’t expect nature’s activities to cure everything, but we can certainly try to see if nature helps make our journey easier and more enjoyable, regardless of the season.

Winter. Snug, refreshing, intricate snowflakes, fuzzy animals. What will you find in nature to make you smile? 

Happening at Wingfield Pines Featured event: Twitter in the Trees/Christmas Bird Count, December 15, 8am. Check the Allegheny Land Trust website for more events.

Allegheny Land Trust

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