You may have heard that being out in nature is good for your mental health. If you deal with stress, anxiety, and depression on a regular basis, you may be interested in spending more time in nature. However, if you have little wilderness experience, going camping can be stressful and intimidating.
Hopefully, this brief guide will get you started on the right hiking boot! Nature is a fine form of therapy, so try it out this summer.
Benefits of Camping for Mental Health
Here are just a few potential health benefits of being out in nature:
- A Stanford study that compared two groups of people, one walking in nature and the other in an urban area, showed that those exposed to nature had decreased activity in a brain region associated with depression.
- Submerging oneself in nature can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, and one doctor suggests even 20-30 minutes in nature three days a week can make a difference.
- There is also evidence to support a connection between child mental health and nature.
- Exposure to natural light may help those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
- “Nature therapy” is also embraced by non-western cultures; for example, the Japanese have a mental health practice called Shinrin-Yoku or Forest Bathing.
Don’t substitute professional care with nature, however.
Before we continue, we need to acknowledge that as powerful as she can be, Mother Nature can’t solve everything. Don’t substitute a doctor’s visit with a camping trip. Asking for help is a brave, mature, and responsible thing to do. Plus, your doctor can rule out other potential health problems that may be contributing to your poor mental health.
If you’d rather save your money for buying camping gear, you can save on medical care by visiting a community health center, talking to a qualified nurse via a hotline, and buying prescription mental health drugs like ZOLOFT® through an international and Canadian pharmacy service.
Beginner Camping Tips
So let’s get back to camping! While by no means exhaustive, here are some tips to get you started on your wilderness journey.
- Choose an easy location.
For your first camping trip, you’ll probably want a location that’s easily accessible by car or even reachable by public transport. It also helps to have a location close to a town, so that you can access help or supplies if necessary.
Don’t try a backpacking or canoeing trip for your first overnight wilderness experience, unless you’re with a highly experienced person who can take care of you. Packing for such rugged trips can be more challenging.
- Safety first!
Ease your stress by investing time and effort in camping safety. This includes researching potential hazards in your area and how to avoid them, such as how to make a bear cache in an area populated by bears.
You should also bring medical supplies, bug spray, sun screen, water purification, and common over-the-counter medications for everyday aches and pains. Other safety equipment you may want include flashlights with extra batteries, extra fuel, compass, and a satellite phone if reception doesn’t work.
If you’re a first-timer, consider doing your first trip with an experienced camper.
- Understand your responsibilities.
Nobody likes an inconsiderate camper. Follow the saying, “if you pack it in, pack it out.” This means, bring your trash home with you and clean up your campsite when you leave! The saying “take only pictures, leave only footprints” also applies. Taking just a rock off the ground can disturb natural ecosystems.
Camping may seem synonymous with campfires, but many places ban campfires during the dry, summer season. Always obey local laws, and don’t attempt to build a fire unless you know what you’re doing in terms of safety.
Lastly, make sure you have the appropriate permits.
- Get appropriate equipment and learn how to use it.
Camping is a generally thrifty affair, but there are certain start-up costs. You can, however, find camping gear second-hand, just make sure you have a durable tent and sleeping bag. Spending a night cold and wet will probably turn you away from camping for good! Practice pitching your tent in a park or backyard before your trip to make sure it works and to make sure you know how to work it.
Other supplies include fire-starting equipment, sanitary supplies, a camping stove, cooking and eating utensils, and weather-appropriate clothing. Bring more food, clothing, and equipment than you think you’ll need, at least for your first trip.
- Don’t forget about entertainment!
Between setting up camp and cooking dinner, you may find yourself with a lot of idle time. Sure, enjoying nature, meditating, and hiking are great activities, but if you just don’t feel like it, make sure you bring some back-up entertainment.
However, keep it nature-friendly! Don’t bring an entire laptop and DVD player. That just defeats the purpose of a nature getaway. Rather, bring a deck of cards or a travel-sized board game. Groups of people can also play word games and verbal games like Mafia or Werewolf.
- Bring a guidebook on flora and fauna.
You’ll likely come across plants and animals you don’t see on a regular basis, and it would be nice to put a name to them! So, consider getting a guidebook on the local flora and fauna. Learning how to identify plants and birdwatching can be incredibly fun and rewarding. Doing so also connects you more intimately with nature.
- Practice mindfulness.
If you meditate, what better place to meditate than out in nature? Schedule in some alone time to practice some mindfulness. Let go of your thoughts and focus on the moment, the sounds, and the smells. Enjoy every moment in nature as it unfolds before you. This is the essence of camping, after all.