“We are pleased to introduce a guest writer on our blog, Michelle Peterson. Michelle has written a great article about one of the many benefits of spending time in nature. Look forward to more of her articles in the future.” Francis and Kate
Right now, the United States is in the midst of a public health emergency of opioid-related deaths. According to a global survey, Americans try more drugs than any other population in the world. We also spend almost $1.5 billion per year on neuroscience research that has deepened our understanding of how the brain works – but hasn’t led to improved treatment success rates.
Twelve-step programs dominate our rehabilitation industry. In 2000, 90 percent of addiction treatment facilities used the 12-step method, perhaps the most famous of which is Alcoholics Anonymous. But outside researchers have estimated that the success rate of AA hovers between 5 and 10 percent. Rehab centers (which have swelled into a $35 billion industry) rarely post reliable stats about recovery rates.
So of all the options out there, probably the best one for people trying to kick an addiction is medically assisted detoxification and care plans that a drug clinician administers. We’ll leave the details to the experts. In the meantime, consider one activity that may supplement your recovery: getting outdoors. Here are some tips on how to start.
First off, it’s important to underscore how invaluable exercise is to the process of addiction recovery. Using drugs stimulates neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins – “feel-good” chemicals associated with sensations of joy, bliss, and elation. The downside is that these chemicals are released in excess, effectively flooding the brain so that when you come down from them, your system feels washed out.
Staying active, meanwhile, has been shown to also release similar neurotransmitters as drugs, but in healthy amounts. That’s why walking outside is not only good cardio, but it also comprises a brain boost: Soaking up oxygen and absorbing vitamin D lowers your stress and sharpens your memory and concentration. Granted, taking a stroll isn’t a foolproof recovery plan, but it is an excellent way to clear your mind and stay connected to a world that’s far larger than you.
What about the feeling that’s hard to pin down when you’re out in nature itself? Poets, memoirists, and environmentalists have been trying to capture that sensation through the ages, and it mostly comes down to a mixture of peace and fresh vigor. A more clinical approach on the perks of nature might list these benefits: Being outdoors reduces your stress levels, improves your academic and work performance, and decreases activity in the area of the brain associated with depression. Paddle-boarding a river or hiking through the fall woods or biking along the edge of a meadow helps clue you into what a vast, various, and beautiful world there is out there. That, in turn, may keep you away from social circles that use drugs, and improve your outlook so that you don’t succumb to your stress and use drugs as a means of self-medication.
Spending Time with Your Pet
When you do go out into nature, bring your pet along with you. That may mean watching your cat hunt in your backyard or walking your iguana around the block on balmy days. More likely, though, dogs are the consummate wandering companions, so consider taking your dog hiking, visiting a dog park, hitting the beach, or just going for a walk around the block.
Here are just some of the health perks of having a pet
- They improve our mood.
- Boost our immune systems.
- Relax us until we feel in less pain.
- Help introduce us to other people.
- Lower our stress and blood pressure.
And they’re especially vital for people battling an addiction. Since one of the emotional torments of recovery is the anguish of loneliness, having a pet is built-in companionship that can ease our fretting and get us outdoors for a brisk walk.
There’s no substitute for a proven addiction recovery plan. However, incorporating exercise, spending some time outdoors, and hanging out with your pet can complement your treatment. And when you’re overcoming addiction, sometimes you need all the help you can get.
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