Did you know that experts believe most Americans spend about 90 percent of their day indoors?
Our modern lifestyles often don’t provide many opportunities to naturally spend time outside, which means we need to make a conscious effort to head outdoors.
If you’re in recovery, you should make it a goal to spend at least 20 to 30 minutes outside each day. Doing so will help you manage many of the issues that can put you at risk of relapse.
How Spending Time Outside Helps Promote Your Recovery
Although heading outdoors won’t cure a substance use disorder on its own, making an effort to spend more time in nature offers some important benefits for people in early recovery.
- Improved focus and concentration. Trouble focusing is a common withdrawal symptom as the body adjusts to life without drugs and alcohol. A study on the restorative effects of natural environment experiences found that spending time outdoors improved cognitive performance and attention when performing detailed-oriented tasks.
- More restful sleep. Insomnia is common in the early stages of recovery, but this bothersome withdrawal symptom can often be managed by spending more time outside. Time in nature helps reset your natural circadian rhythms, which promotes better sleep. According to the Mayo Clinic, benefits increase if your outdoor activities include exercise that gets your heart pumping.
- Enhanced self-esteem. Building a positive identity without addictive substances is a challenge, but spending time in nature can increase your self-esteem. A 2010 review of the effects of nature on mental health found that spending time outdoors improved mood and enhanced self-esteem in men and women of all ages, with the greatest benefits for young adults and people with a current mental illness.
- Reduced stress. Finding ways to control stress without drug and alcohol is a common challenge in the first year of sobriety. Spending time outside lowers levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. A Japanese study found a 12.4 percent decrease in cortisol level, 7.0 percent decrease in sympathetic nervous activity, 1.4 percent decrease in systolic blood pressure, and 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate among 420 subjects asked to spend time in 35 different forests throughout Japan.
- Less loneliness and boredom. Feelings of loneliness and boredom are well-known relapse triggers. Spending time outside stimulates the mind and body in a different way than simply sitting on your couch. Time spent in a public space such as a park also gives you a chance to expand your social circle.
Other benefits of spending time outdoors include reduced inflammation, an enhanced immune system, and a reduced risk of early death. These benefits help sustain the momentum of the wellness-focused lifestyle you’ve begun to build for yourself.
Ideas to Help You Spend More Time Outside
You don’t necessarily need to plan a week-long camping trip or become a skilled outdoorsman to experience the benefits of spending time in nature. Spending time outside can involve a wide range of activities. For example:
- Create a backyard garden.
- Go for a short walk.
- Play catch.
- Ride a bike.
- Join a community sports team.
- Visit a local park.
- Go birdwatching.
- Try geocaching.
- Have an outdoor picnic.
- Attend an outdoor concert or community festival.
- Find a comfy chair and read your favorite book.
- Take up outdoor photography.
Of course, getting outside becomes a bit more difficult in the winter. However, you don’t need to let the cold temps force you indoors. Activities to enjoy in the winter include:
- Go ice skating.
- Go skiing.
- Go sledding.
- Build a snowman.
- Have a snowball fight.
- Make snow angels.
- Volunteer to shovel snow for an elderly neighbor.
If you have friends and family who wish to support your sobriety, ask these individuals to participate in outdoor activities with you. The time you spend together will help rebuild trust in your relationship and having someone to hold you accountable makes it easier to stick to your goal of getting outdoors each day.
When all else fails, simply taking the time to look at your window and enjoy a pretty view can provide mood-boosting benefits. Keeping your blinds or curtains open during the dark days of winter can also help to reduce the depression symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
A Note About Electronic Devices
No matter how you choose to spend time outdoors, it’s a smart move to leave your phone or tablet at home. If you’re constantly checking for a new text or surfing social media, your attention won’t be focused on the present moment. To make the most of your time in nature, you need to avoid distractions.
A short digital detox can also prevent you from using your devices as a substitute addiction, which is a common problem in the early stages of drug or alcohol addiction recovery. Review our article Don’t Derail Your Recovery with a Substitute Addiction to learn more.
St. Joseph Institute’s Holistic Approach to Recovery
At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we believe that lasting sobriety involves more than mere abstinence from addictive substances. Our treatment plans are personalized to promote healing of the mind, body, and spirit. We encourage a holistic view of wellness, which includes spending time in nature as well as getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.