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Expert Voices: 3 Ways Time Outside is Good for Your Mental Health

Posted by Jessi Loerch at Feb 15, 2022 01:20 PM |

We talked with three of our partners, all mental health professionals, about the benefits they see when youth and families spend time outside.

Sometimes it can feel hard to get outside. However, especially when things are hard, some time in nature can add brightness to gloomy days. WTA’s Outdoor Leadership Training program has many partners who find fun and creative ways to get outside with youth and families. Recently, we chatted with three of our OLT partners who are mental health professionals. We asked OLT leaders Renee Pierce, Becca Atkins and Cory Lane to tell us about benefits to mental and physical health they see for their youth and family after time spent outdoors together.

If you need a bit of a reset, or just another good reason to get outside, here are three ways time outside can be good for you. And remember, you don't have to do much. If all you manage is a walk around the block or mindfully watching the clouds out your window, that's great. 

A group of young hikers holds up their hands on top of a rocky mountain, with trees and a bright blue sky in the background.
When Cory Lane took a group of youth hiking, he found the experience was a powerful way for them to form strong connections and help each other out. 

1. Support for mental health

"I have had clients unable to focus in the office and we have opted to go walking by the river and through some woods. Upon returning to the office the client noticed that they were calmer and able to articulate what they were feeling. What they reported back was that being outdoors gave them the space to be present in their surroundings. Prior to the hike they would feel physically stressed, upon returning they would state that their bodies felt relaxed.

When I took clients that suffered with depression outside on a regular basis the depression would start to lift. The biggest difference I saw was that when teaching skills the client retained the information better when outside than when in the office.

When I take younger clients out I have noticed a significant change in attitude and level of confidence which allows them to process challenges better." — Becca Atkins

"We observed a range of positive outcomes from our therapeutic Summer Hiking Group, including increased engagement in other counseling services, improved self-confidence and overall mood of several teens struggling with depression and anxiety, and social bonding between group members." — Cory Lane 

A woman with sunglasses with white frames and a huge smile takes a selfie with two teens. Green trees and blue skies are in the background.
Renee Pierce, who works with youth and families, says that getting outside is a good way for families to build strong relationships. 

2. Building connection and support 

"The most striking benefit of bringing teens outside together this past summer was the opportunity for them to engage with and support one another. Our enrollment and engagement in groups steadily increased over the course of our hiking series, in no small part due to the active encouragement teens provided to each other. On several occasions, we even had teens text each other the night before and early in the morning before our hike to remind them to wake up bright and early to avoid missing the trip." — Cory Lane

"I’ve seen families build stronger relationships with their kids, build self-confidence, and they pay more attention to their child and surroundings." — Renee Pierce

A group of adults stand together smiling for the camera. Becca Atkins is third from right, wearing a warm hat and a raincoat.
Becca Atkins, third from right on a camping workshop on an OLT camping workshop in 2018, has found that going outside with her clients can help them deal with depression and other mental health issues. 

3. A space for self care

"I believe having time outside promotes healthy living. It’s a breath of fresh air that is required for living. It reduces stress and gives you an opportunity to let go. It’s a great place for kids and adults to have self-care." — Renee Pierce

"Outdoor activities have a greater appeal and wider potential than most other therapeutic interventions. Our diverse group of teens reported a wide variety of reasons for appreciating the outdoors, from the chance to take a break from screens and social media and to get active, to the opportunity to challenge themselves and interact with their peers outside of the school environment. Parents also expressed appreciation for their children’s participation in the program, especially citing the power of outdoor adventures to combat the negative impacts of the Covid lockdowns on their youth’s self-esteem, physical fitness, and social lives." — Cory Lane

"I have seen many benefits of taking clients outdoors. When we are outside I am able to teach how to use our five senses to help with strong emotions that need to be calmed so that we can use the logical part of our brain." — Becca Atkins

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