Outdoor Diary: How I’m Using Nature to Get Through Stressful Times

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humans outside episode 252

It’s not exactly a low stress time of year — and if it is now, let’s be honest, it probably will be at least a little stressful soon. That’s just how the holidays go for so many of us. It’s part of life.

But dealing with it can also be a part of life. And Amy has found that heading outside is perfect for that. In this episode Amy talks about why this time of year is so stressful for her and what she’s been doing about it.

Some of the good stuff:

[:50] The body does, in fact, keep the score

[1:00] Here’s what’s wrong with November

[2:28] And then there comes the holidays

[3:09] Here’s some not so good tools

[3:40] But what about going outside?

[3:55] Make a container out of it

[4:30] A recent example

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

You know that saying “the body keeps the score,” as in even if we don’t remember with our brains the stress of the pass, our bodies do — and they remind us by reacting in ways that seem confusing until we realize what’s happening?

Yeah, that’s a thing here for the first half of November. Every year I am so confused by why I feel like my head is about to explode for no reason. And then I remember — oh yeah.

I know you believe me, but just for good measure here’s a rundown of stressful first-half November since 2009.

In 2009, my husband was deployed and I had an infant — and so many people had already died from our unit. It was so bad that the vice president came to our latest memorial service at Fort Lewis for seven soldiers who were killed at once on Oct. 27. One day during the first week of November that year, a pair of mormon missionaries came to our door and knocked. In what were heart-rending seconds seared into my memory, I paused and wondered if they were instead soldiers there to notify me that my husband had died.

In 2012, just a week before he was supposed to deploy again, Luke instead learned he needed emergency heart surgery.

In 2013 he was completely unraveling under the stress of his undiagnosed injuries. I won’t go into now but take my word on this — we, his family, noticed.

In 2016 this was the week of a presidential election that, regardless of how you felt about the outcome, was stressful.

Same thing in 2020.

And since 2018, the week of Veterans Day is the most stressful part of my job.

So yes, it’s a lot.

And then we enter the holiday season. I don’t know about you, but that comes with a lot of mixed emotions for me. There are many, many joyous parts that I really love. And there’s some stress year after year. And there’s a lot of emotional baggage from family. And I wish it didn’t exist, but it does — and boy does my body remember it.

So yes, this is a stressful time for me. And yet over recent years I’ve been simply mind-boggled as to why I feel like it’s stressful. And then something reminds me of the past — sometimes it’s Facebook’s memories feature — and I think oh yeah, no wonder I’m feeling more than a little tightly wound right now.

And then I use the tools I have to make myself feel better.

Now, a previous version of me had the following tools – either some or all at the same time: comfort food, a little wine or a beer to wind down, a comfort movie, a long, hard run, hitting CrossFit for a week of really tough but great feeling workouts.

So there’s nothing inherently wrong with those things in moderation. And of course anything in excess is bad.

But what’s not on that list? Heading outside.

That’s because until about five years ago I didn’t know that leaning into spending simple time outside could work as a container, if you will, to hold the stress for me and just breathe in and out and let it go a little. But that container trick is something I learned through therapy and through a few podcast guests we’ve had here, including Judith Sadora, a wilderness therapist. She talks about heading outside as being the perfect place to use as that “container” for what’s heavy and stressful. You acknowledge what’s going on for you, and you work through it mentally outside, and when you walk back inside you leave it there to work through again later.

I’m not saying that leaves all the stress outside or means you never feel the hard stuff. I’m just saying for me heading outside helps me work through this stuff. And I know that because I’ve tried it and experienced it.

Recently? That looked like a wander in the back woods where I quite literally plopped down onto the snow and laid down flat for awhile, watching the sky and then just sitting there, breathing and watching and being. And it was just what I needed.

And for you? I recommend you try it. When things get stressful or you notice that your body is, well, keeping the score, head outside and see if you can simply take deep breaths and use it to contain whatever it is you’ve got going on. I hope it works for you the way it’s worked for me.

You can see photos of all of my outdoor time — one photo a day! — on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. Share your photos too with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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