10 best tactics for dumping depression outdoors
“Depression — you’re welcome to hike up to Tam MacArthur Rim with me,” I said out loud after waking up on the blue side yesterday, “… but I doubt you’ll be able to keep up.”
Even though my life is good and full and there’s no reason for it, depression and anxiety often wake up with me.
And so I followed naturalist John Muir’s mantra:
The mountains are calling and I must go.
In context, Muir was referring to his life’s work. But I think the statement also applies to dealing with depression. Because adding the outdoor component to any blues-chasing effort exponentially affects the positive outcome.
Here are 10 of my best “outdoor” tactics for leaving depression in the dust:
1. Find a trail. Lake, river, park, mountain … or the trail to your mailbox if you’re not in the best of health. It doesn’t matter. Locate a path, put one foot in front of the other, and get moving.
2. Count wildflowers. Or count anything in the natural landscape. Notice the variety, and observe how the colors in nature never clash with each other.
3. Play fetch with a dog. Or two. There’s nothing like throwing a ball and watching a dog full-heartedly enter the chase, returning expectantly, waggingly. Bet you can’t do this for very long without joy spilling over.
4. Get out on the water. Whether kayaking, canoeing, swimming, stand-up paddling, sailing — the sounds and rhythm and mesmerizing qualities of water can be healing. (Add a dog to the formula, and the blues skedaddle even more quickly.)
5. Listen to music outdoors. Just as food tastes better al fresco, music sounds better in the open air. Take your tunes with you. Or attend a free concert in the park.
6. Read in the open air. Find a comfortable place—preferably near a lake or river or within view of the mountains—and see if the depression doesn’t get lost in your book.
7. Be of service. And if possible, add some outdoor-ness to your service. You’ve already met my friend with Alzheimer’s who I spend time with once a week to give his wife the opportunity to run errands or meet a friend for lunch. We try to do something outdoors each week: A short hike followed by coffee/Chai tea at an outdoor café. And then there’s feeding young alpacas.
8. Connect with people. Even though this hike up to Tam MacArthur Rim was on my own, hanging with my outdoor people goes far in battling the blues. Because when you throw in all the shenanigans and laughter and kindred-spiritedness, there’s not much room left for anxiety or depression.
9. Capture gratefulness in a journal. Listing things we’re grateful for can be done anywhere, of course, but counting blessings outdoors is so much easier. Simply look around. And then begin filling up the pages.
10. Sit still. Breathe. Contemplate God’s goodness. Sit with the depression. Settle in a comfortable spot overlooking the amazing-ness of God’s creation. (In my neck of the woods, made-in-Oregon trees are among the amazing-ness.)
Take in deep breaths. Exhale slowly. Relax your shoulders. See if you don’t hear God whisper to your heart: “I’ve got this.”
The good news is, depression wasn’t able to keep up with me as I ascended the trail to Tam MacArthur Rim yesterday. It petered out within the first ten minutes of hiking.
Depression and anxiety are brawny adversaries when we’re dealing with hard-hitting news, like, spread-of-cancer news, loss-of-job news, or spouse-walking-out news.
I’m not talking about serious clinical depression here, but the kind that zaps our energy and hates walks in nature and sun glinting off water.
If there’s no desire to get out of bed, or create, or hang out with people, then the best thing to do is get out of bed anyway.
Get outdoors anyway.
Show up at work anyway.
Connect with your people anyway.
Pull out paintbrushes or pottery clay or whittling tools.
Sit at the piano anyway.
While it’s true that not everyone with depression can venture out on a nature trail, what if a front porch swing with a book and a cup of tea would work just as well?
Or a patio chair with a dog, a tennis ball, and a Chuck-It?
Or a park bench while wearing your people-watching glasses?
There are a number of effective ways to battle your garden-variety blues. And from my experience, adding the outdoor component exponentially enhances the success rate.