Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month. In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them. These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself.
Whether you’re trying to soak up the sun, grow a beautiful garden, or just take a walk, summers in Michigan are the perfect time to be outside. As a native Michigander, I know “up north” as code for vacationing in the wilderness where beautiful views of nature are on display and relaxation is the main goal. (Do I sound a bit like Tim Allen in the Pure Michigan commercials?)
Michigan’s tourism campaign aside, we’re given an opportunity at this time of year to take full advantage of the health benefits that being outside provides. Research has proven that spending time outdoors increases desire for exercise and corresponding weight loss, boosts energy, leads to better eye health, improves sleep , and enhances attention span and concentration. Beyond the physical benefits of being outside, there are plenty of mental health benefits as well, like improved brain function and creativity, a decrease in stress and anxiety levels, and a shift toward more positive moods.
A common struggle for those of us who live in the northern states is seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Seasonal affective disorder is similar to depression in that it involves symptoms like difficulty focusing, decrease in energy, moodiness, sleeping too much, or losing interest in things you normally enjoy. SAD is associated with low levels of vitamin D, a hormone produced when your skin is exposed to sunlight. The theory behind the connection between vitamin D and SAD is that vitamin D increases levels of serotonin, which improves symptoms of depression.
What are some ideas on how to fully soak up everything the outdoors has to offer this summer?
Start your day outside.
The first few hours after you wake up is the best time to take advantage of the sun’s major benefits. At this time of day, the UV index is lower, limiting the negative effects of sun exposure. Pick a spot outside where you can sit for 5 or 10 minutes each morning and observe nature unfold around you. Or incorporate outdoor exercise into your morning routine, which has the added perk of giving you extra willpower to resist urges to eat throughout the day.
Go for a walk.
If you work in a windowless office during the day, going outside for a walk on a lunch or rest break during your day can help you feel refreshed once you return to your desk. Breathing in the fresh air slows down your breath and leads to a sense of calm. As mentioned earlier, walking or other exercise outdoors is a nice change-up from hours spent in the gym in the winter months. Studies have shown that exercising outside will increase the likelihood that you’ll be motivated to continue to exercise. Participants in the study also named that they felt less tension, depression, and anxiety after exercising outside.
Have a picnic lunch.
I’ve started a tradition with my toddler-age nephew recently: when he and I spend time together, we pack a picnic lunch and walk down to the park. There's an adventurous quality to the combination of packing an on-the-go meal, spending energy walking to the park and playing on the play structure, and eating a leisurely meal by the river on a picnic blanket: he eats and naps easier those days, and I feel more relaxed and calm. We’re lucky to live in a state where there are so many green spaces and forests and lakes – let’s take advantage of the nature we have around us!
Go camping…or “glamping.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never actually been pitch-a-tent, cook-over-a-fire, sleep-under-the-stars camping. I don’t think I’d survive without access to my hair dryer! But when I visit an up north cottage in the summer months, where I can spend time next to a lake, soaking up the sun and playing yard games in the grass, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. Set aside a weekend for yourself to visit a campground or a cottage in the middle of nowhere where you can spend time out in the sun (with sunscreen, of course!)
Summer months in Michigan often come with scattered rain showers as the heat affects weather patterns. While thunderstorms might be something to avoid, who says you have to stay inside when it’s raining? Some of my favorite memories have come from getting stuck in a pop-up rain shower, eventually giving up on staying dry and going full force into splashing through puddles. Embrace the playfulness of getting soaked, whether you’re with your kids or a friend.
Garden or do yard work outside.
I imagine some of you have a green thumb and can create beautiful landscaped creations in your garden or yard, while others of you can’t keep a cactus alive. Whatever your gardening skill, spend some time weeding your yard or mowing your grass. You’ll likely see immediate results, which can be encouraging, and the repetitiveness of the actions can be calming. With gardening, there’s a beauty and simplicity in watching plants grow and harvesting vegetables, herbs, or beautiful flowers to enjoy.
How will you spend time outside this week?
Are you having a hard time feeling motivated to take action and feel better? Does self-care feel like a foreign phrase? At Restored Hope, we know that depression or anxiety can feel crippling, and you may not be aware of the tools you can use to step out of these painful patterns. At our Novi and Ann Arbor therapy offices, we’d love to meet with you for support as you seek freedom from the depression and anxiety you are feeling. Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here today to hear more about how we can help.