How Time in Nature Supports Our Recovery – Kelli Evans
The silence soothes my mind as my thoughts slow. My body relaxes from its near constant state of hypervigilance. I focus on my breathing and my heartbeat. As my eyes take in the natural beauty around me, I sense that life is so much more than living in an eating disorder. Life is so much more than living with alcoholism, self-harm and depression.
This experience described above — and the insight gained — is difficult for me to achieve when anxiety is gnawing at every part of me. But nature has a way of touching us in places that seem unreachable. Time in nature gives me so many gifts, particularly faith, perseverance, and hope.
I have climbed mountains over 14,000 feet. I have let my toes soak in the sand of the ocean shore as I watched the sunrise. I have observed (and loved) the way a sunset changed the color of the red dust in deep canyons. I have hiked in many places where the beauty was so intense it brought tears to my eyes. I have been awed by wild animals as our paths have crossed. I have marveled at the life teeming in tide pools — the rising moon lighting up a snow field full of diamonds. I have seen the dainty Columbine flower raise its head strongly towards the sun and wild flower fields, that had more colors than I knew existed, in the spectrum of light. I’ve seen trout dance happily along icy cold streams. I’ve listened to the roar and churning of white water as I rafted. I have marveled at the dark sky lit up by a blanket of stars as I sleep outdoors.
Since the beginning of time, the benefits of being in nature have been exalted. Today, studies affirm what we have really always known: being in nature heals us. The Japanese even have a name for it: “forest bathing”. Time in nature is now being used to treat PTSD, depression, anxiety, and so much more.
The benefits of nature in recovery
One of the hardest things for me in early eating disorder recovery was to learn to listen to my body. I simply saw it as something to hurt, hate, and be ashamed of. I was so detached from what it needed or wanted. I denied my body food and never listened to it — even when it was trying to tell me to stop running mile after mile after mile. I saw my body as the enemy and it never occurred to me that I could be gentle and loving to it. This is why my time in nature is now so healing to me; when I’m outside, I feel more present, and I can better listen to what my body is trying to say.
Throughout my years in recovery, I have grown more and more amazed at what happens to me as I spend quiet time in nature. When I became more intentional about nature’s healing power, I paid more attention to my breathing, the sensation of my heart beating, and the feeling of my leg muscles working. I began to really notice and feel what relaxation in my shoulders and neck felt like, and my headaches went away. The hunger cues that had faded after decades spent denying their existence began to reemerge — slowly but surely. The more time I spent in nature the more my manageable my anxiety became.
Nature’s healing powers slowly changed me as I pondered things in a place where fear was not my biggest emotion.
Being in nature became my medicine.
I am convinced that being intentional in our time out in nature can help heal our wounds. It doesn’t require long periods of time in the wilderness hiking and backpacking. I find some of these benefits from short times in nature, too.
You can also allow yourself to be touched by the tenderness in nature. Give it a try this week:
- Find a quiet place outside for lunch at work
- Walk through a park, even in a city
- Notice the way the sun filters through the leaves of a tree
- Listen to the sound of a gentle breeze rustling
Nature gives us a larger perspective on life — there is a sacredness. What I see and feel around me bolsters my Faith. A calmness comes to me and lifts my spirit even in brief times outdoors. Outside, I remember that I am part of something much bigger than myself.
What about you? Do you have stories of how nature has impacted you and your recovery journey? Is there a favorite place that brings that calmness to your heart? I would love to hear about it!
Kelli, along with Maggie Moore, LMFT, is excited to begin an initiative that will offer outdoor experiences to Denver area ERC alumni. The first event will be June 1st. If you are an ERC alumni living near Denver, and you would like more information, contact Maggie at Maggie.firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelli lives in Parker, CO, is married with two children, and loves hiking, backpacking, music, and spending time with friends. She is a member of the Recovery Ambassador Council at Eating Recovery Center, and has a passion to share with others that living a whole, fulfilling life in recovery is possible. To read more of how Kelli's faith impacts her own eating disorder recovery check out Redemptive Recovery at Kellievans.com