Why It’s Important to Smell the Roses – and to Sail Away on Zip Lines
Here at Little Creek, we do more than offer clinical assessment and guidance for young men in recovery: we encourage them to find their true selves. We are strong believers in recreation therapy, and our Adventure Trek program is one of our most successful means of helping people reengage with the world around them.
But you don’t have to take our word for it. There is a lot of research (both academic and real-world) that supports the benefits of getting back to nature in the recovery process. We wanted to give you a brief overview of those benefits, to help you understand why our Adventure Trek program offers another way for you to become empowered to make good decisions.
Being in nature calms us down
We bet you know someone who can’t stand being “landlocked,” or who takes off hiking or camping at every chance, or who suffers through a long commute to work because his or her house is located far away from urban or suburban environments. Your friend may be onto something. Richard Mitchell, an epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, told National Geographic that “researchers suspect is that nature works primarily by lowering stress.” You don’t even need to be “in” nature to experience these benefits:
“Compared with people who have lousy window views, those who can see trees and grass have been shown to recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school, and even display less violent behavior in neighborhoods where it’s common… Measurements of stress hormones, respiration, heart rate, and sweating suggest that short doses of nature—or even pictures of the natural world—can calm people down and sharpen their performance.”
Why does this matter? Because the recovery process can be very stressful – on the body that is detoxing, and one the mind that is dealing with a lifestyle change. Many people abuse alcohol or drugs as a way to “escape” their troubles, or as a way to calm themselves down. (How often have you heard someone say after a stressful day at work, “Man, I could use a drink”? How many times have you said it yourself?)
The natural world can change the chemistry in your brain
Right now, our country is in the midst of an opioid crisis. Taking opioids or opiate-based drugs can alter your brain’s chemistry. So, as it turns out, can time spent in nature. A 2015 controlled study published by the National Academy of Sciences found that “Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.”
“Rumination,” or “brooding,” as an analysis of the piece in The New York Times explains, is our tendency to relive every mistake over and over in our minds. What the research team did was create two groups of people; one group walked along a highway, and the other walked along a park-like section of the Stanford campus. Both groups had their brains scanned, to see the blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain associated with moods). What they discovered is that people who walked along the leafy paths had less blood flow to that area of the brain. In the words of the Times, “That portion of their brains were quieter.”
Why Adventure Trek is different from other programs
A lot of people associate being calm with boredom. How long can you really look at trees, right?
That’s why our recreation program works so well. Adventure Trek combines the benefits of being in nature with the companionship of your peers – and the excitement of being physically engaged with the world. When you’re physically active, your brain releases endorphins. Endorphins block pain AND create feelings of pleasure. That’s running, hiking, kayaking, and zip-lining are all so much fun; they release these endorphins, leading to a non-addictive, natural “high.”
Fresh air, exercise, and sunshine are all good for us. Being with other like-minded people is good for us. And re-engaging with the natural world, in the company of people you can trust, is very good for us.
Ready to get back to nature? Little Creek Lodge in Northeast Pennsylvania is a family-owned and operated alcohol and drug treatment center offering clinical, recreational, in-patient, and outpatient services. Our programs are designed to help young men in recovery make healthy choices about their future. It’s not about being powerless; it’s about empowerment. Please call 877-689-2644, or fill out our contact form to learn more about our services.