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  • Shengying Zhao

Mental Health and Camping: How Nature Can Help with Stress

When thoughts of camping arise, images of sleeping under the stars, hiking through picturesque landscapes, bonding over campfire games and songs often come to mind. While these experiences hold true, camping encompasses more than meets the eye. It presents a marvelous opportunity to benefit your mental health. And since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to take a moment to touch on some of those benefits.

The majority of Americans experience daily stress, based on a research from the American Institute of Stress. Immersing yourself in an outdoor retreat can work wonders in alleviating anxiety, stress, and depression. Camping can be an enjoyable and exhilarating experience that offers numerous physical and mental health benefits.

Reduce Anxiety and Stress

The American Psychology Association has expressed growing concern over the escalating reports of stress-related decline in overall well-being. Instances of self-reported anxiety, anger, and fatigue linked to stress have all shown an upward trend. Manifold research indicates that exposure to nature can effectively decrease cortisol, a stress hormone. Although there are relatively fewer studies specifically focusing on camping, research on the effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function has found that shinrin-yoku or forest bathing can reduce stress levels significantly. The connection between nature and mental health benefits extends beyond mere outdoor exercise. When we simplify our lives and immerse ourselves in nature, listening to the winds in the trees, watching butterflies, and enjoying silence, we often achieve a sense of mental clarity that's hard to attain at home. Overall, the synergistic combination of exercise and exposure to nature has been scientifically proven to diminish stress levels and enhance mental well-being.

Reset Our Circadian Rhythms

Upon returning from a camping trip, you may notice an improvement in your sleep quality and increased alertness. Studies show that even just a short getaway can be sufficient to reset our circadian rhythms, which can easily be disrupted by artificial lighting like phone and computer screens. Circadian rhythms acts as your body's internal clock, regulating your sleep patterns, as well as various bodily functions including hormone production, body temperature, and digestion. Maintaining a stable internal body clock is crucial. We often find ourselves surrounded by incessant anxieties and distractions of daily life that disrupt our sleep and peace of mind. For example, artificial lighting in modern environments has been implicated in causing a delay of approximately two hours in our body's natural circadian rhythm. Camping presents a potential remedy for this problem. Waking up with the natural sunlight instead of artificial light can help balance melatonin levels and reset our internal clock, which will help you feel refreshed after a good night's sleep.

Increase Self-Awareness in Isolation

Engaging in solo camping can profoundly enhance self-awareness by shedding light on hidden sources of stress or concerns that may have gone unnoticed. Increasingly, scientists are approaching solitude as something that, when pursued by choice, can prove therapeutic. Even a brief period of solitude can have a significant impact on our mental health and overall well-being. In other words, when individuals distance themselves from the social environment that surrounds them, they gain a clearer perspective on how they are influenced by some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting. However, it's important to note that solitude is not solely about being alone. According to Matthew Bowker, a psychoanalytic political theorist who has extensively studied solitude, it entails a profound internal journey. Productive solitude requires internal exploration, a process that can be uncomfortable and even excruciating. It may require some effort before it transforms into a gratifying experience. Yet, once achieved, it becomes arguably the most significant relationship a person can have—the relationship with oneself.

What You Can Do

The end of May unofficially heralds the arrival of summer in the United States, inviting us to embrace the abundant opportunities for outdoor adventures. Thankfully, embracing the benefits of nature doesn't necessarily require enduring a rugged experience. Looking for ways to enjoy quality time in nature? Try a few of these ideas:

  1. Get outdoors: Walks in the woods or green spaces can greatly enhance both physical and mental well-being. Engaging in daily nature walks assists individuals in building their physical strength while simultaneously combating stress and improving their mental resilience.

  2. Ditch the gym and shift your workout routine to the great outdoors: Exercising in nature can ease stress and releases endorphins, start by taking things back to basics and engaging in activities such as cycling, jogging, or practicing yoga in a natural environment, compared to urban scenery.

  3. Explore an outdoor recreational activity: If you have yet to experience paddleboarding, kayaking, rock climbing, or any other outdoor sport, plan a session or class to immerse yourself in the adventure and enjoy a rejuvenating experience.

  4. Design a vacation in nature: Instead of opting for a bustling city destination for your next getaway, consider designing a week-long camping expedition in a national or state park. Embrace the opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of the natural world.

Ready to experience the benefits of camping? Westfield Outdoors® is here to help

Now that you have gained insight into the mental health benefits of camping, are you feeling prepared to give it a try? Even if you're not typically drawn to camping, it's worth considering as an option if you find yourself in need of a mental reset. And, as I outlined previously, there are tons of other ways to connect with nature without a standard camping trip. So whether you're planning on camping, hiking, exercising outdoors, or just making a point to spend a little more time outdoors at home, Westfield Outdoors® has the products you need to take the worry out of your outdoor adventures. To learn more about our products and how they can help make an active, outdoor lifestyle more accessible and comfortable, head on over to Shop Westfield Outdoors®!

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