This week’s blog post is written by explorer mom Tamara Neidich, @tam_neidich. Mental Health is a topic that we believe needs to be normalized and talked about more in the outdoors. The outdoors offers endless benefits for our mental health, starting at an extremely young age. We can all agree that the past 2 years has been incredibly straining on our mental health — adults & children — but we have all found ways to help us clear our mind and reset when needed. For Tamara, and for many of you reading, that was the outdoors. Tamara has shared her story with us today about how the outdoors has helped her mental heath. We hope you know that whatever battles you may have, you are not fighting them alone. We encourage you to allow nature to embrace you, heal you and provide you with a magical kind of mental health support. Here is what Tamara had to say:

Mental health. Two words, one topic, that up until the pandemic, were incredibly taboo.

Picture this: it’s February 2020, you just had your second baby, and you’re looking forward to being on maternity leave and spending tons of time with your new baby, family and friends. Then suddenly the world shuts down. Social distancing and masks are the new thing. You’re secluded in your house, post-partum, possibly with an already diagnosed mental health disorder of some kind, and not even remotely sure how you’re going to navigate this new life. 

That was me...

I had maternity leave all planned out and COVID came and knocked me down flat. Sure, I had my husband at home, but he worked, so it was myself and the kids. Navigating being a new mom of 2, lacking sleep, breastfeeding, cleaning, and trying to take care of myself in the in-between. I was struggling, even though I was already on a medication to help manage my anxiety. I quickly realized that even though it was March and still a little chilly, I needed to maximize my time outside, both for my own well-being and that of my kids. I figured out the best wrap and layering technique for myself and the new baby, bundled up the toddler, and we were on our way. Everyday.

I didn’t realize it until later that what I thought was my last-ditch effort to keep myself sane, was actually supported by research, and a good amount of it! Since I made that realization, I have read so much about the benefits of being outside, both for myself and for my kids. That’s when I really became passionate about making it a point to get out there and encouraging others to do it with us.

For me personally...

being outdoors has provided many benefits. Just walking outside when I’m feeling stressed acts as a calming mechanism because I’m able to use my senses to interact with nature instead of whatever might be triggering me. Think about it, you can immerse every single sense into the outdoors: smelling fresh rain or flowers, feeling grass or dirt under your toes, or the wind in your face, seeing the sun shining bright or leaves blowing, hearing birds chirping or thunder booming, you get the picture. It’s the perfect distraction. When I was post-partum and stuck at my house, I got outside with my boys for walks or little hikes. We obviously started small and worked our way up, but even completing a small walk gave me a sense of accomplishment that positively impacted my mood for the rest of the day. Not to mention the endorphins you get from being active. Getting outside also made me feel more bonded with my kids because I felt like I was doing something more meaningful then playing with the same toys inside. Now that the kids are older, I get outside with them and alone. I run alone to clear my mind, meet goals, and distance myself from responsibilities for awhile. I take them on walks and hikes and to parks for all the same reasons.

The outdoors helping your mental health comes in many forms. Some people may find solace in the outdoors by seeing signs or reminders. Have you ever heard someone say that a loved one who has passed away comes back to them in the form of an animal or a bug or a flower? Imagine feeling off one day, going for a walk, and seeing one of those signs that reminds you that someone loves you, even if they’re not physically with you. I imagine it may motivate you, give you hope, or lift your spirits for the rest of the day. Or may it’s something as simple as seeing a cloud you think is shaped like a certain object and it makes you smile. Or, maybe it’s as simple as your kids being spicy and refusing naps and you’re at your wits’ end. Stick them in the stroller or carrier, go outside, and take a walk. They may fall asleep, or just relax and take in their surroundings, and you’ll feel calmer because no one is on edge anymore.

The truth is...

everyone is different and so are the ways Mother Nature can positively affect your mindset. There is no “wrong way” to get outside…you can be on your balcony, in your yard, at a park, or at a dream destination, as long as you do it, you’ll be positively influencing your health, more than just mentally.

Fun fact I’ve learned…being outside, especially around sunrise, even if it’s overcast or rainy, can help with circadian rhythm, melatonin release, and cortisol production. All of these things can help improve mental health (and other things) over time! So, get out there and take that sunrise hike you’ve been talking about forever! It’s even better for you than you thought!

If you’re interested in some books to inspire you to get outside (especially with littles), here are some of my personal favorites:

  • Balanced and Barefoot – Angela J Hanscom
  • Adventuring Together – Greta Eskridge
  • There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather – Linda Akeson McGurk

Thank-you for taking the time today to read over Tamara’s blog post about how the outdoors helped her mental health. We encourage you to allow the outdoors to do the same. Happy Exploring, and don’t forget to tag us in your latest adventures using #KidsWhoExplore #KWE @KidsWhoExplore! 

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