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Mental Health & the Outdoors

 In an age where we are all constantly going from task to task oftentimes with our eyes suctioned upon a screen for hours on end, it can take a toll on our mental health. Society currently requires so much of our time to be spent behind a screen or indoors, that one can lose sight of the natural world that is before us. However, with more focus on mental health and the ways to improve our mental state, being researched; we learn the positive effects being in nature has on our bodies in all aspects. Maintaining mental health can be a struggle in itself with rising medical costs, long appointment waiting lists, and a lack of resources. For us here in Eastern Oregon, we have access to one of the greatest assets to good mental health, the outdoors! More specifically the Owyhee Canyonlands! 

Birch Creek - Andrea Bonadiman

 So why is FOTO talking about mental health all of a sudden? “Isn’t that a little off-brand,” you might be asking. Well you see, May is Mental Health Month and if you recall in our mission statement, it is our duty to connect the community to the Owyhee region! To celebrate and raise awareness, we thought it’d be the perfect time to show everyone the ways that mental health and the outdoors directly connect to one another.  In 1949, May was designated as Mental Health Month to bring awareness to the significance that mental health plays in American’s lives. This is a time we can break down barriers and stigmas around mental health while showing compassion and empathy towards those who struggle with mental health issues, and focus on the proven methods that truly brighten their lives. 

Viewing the Steens Mountains from the Jordan Craters area - Andrea Bonadiman

Our mental stability and health can be connected to the colors we surround ourselves with. Color theory is used in everything from marketing to interior design. There is one color that overrides all with bringing a sense of calm and hope. The color of the sky that reaches miles and miles, across sagebrush steppe, rocky canyons, lush fields of blooming wildflowers, and the cervices of craters. Blue has been found to significantly lower stress levels, heart rate, and feelings of anxiety. Contrasting against the red rocks that tower over the Owyhee Canyonlands, the sky appears to be the perfect shade of blue. In 2015, the Journal of Psychological Anthropology found that time spent in expansive spaces can result in a reduced sense of anxiety and confinement. Spend a day atop a hillside in the Owyhee and you surely can see the vastness of open spaces, which can result in a person feeling humbled and free.

It’s not only the blue sky that can bring a person back to themselves. Just being out in nature is proven to reduce stress. Many of us have immense cortisol (stress hormone) running through our veins at a given moment. While cortisol is what can help us survive in crisis-like moments, it also can raise our blood pressure and heart rate at unnecessary times. Just being present in nature can reduce that amount by 21%! The exposure of the outdoors can realign our bodies to the natural light cycle, creating a better sleep rhythm. With more rest, our bodies can balance and cope better with different problems that arise throughout the day. Getting out in nature also helps increase vitamin D levels which aids in better bones, immune system, and cardiovascular system.

Science concludes that the way to perk up our mental health is through nature and the natural world, both earth and sky. How are we supposed to get outside? Where can we get outside? All of these are valid questions and the answers are within our grasp locally. Many parks are now adapted for all ages and people of all abilities. Friends of the Owyhee offers many opportunities all ranging in skill level to get out on the land, and are soon to be featuring more! Hiking, clean-ups, classes, camping, etc., we encourage you to follow us on social media and subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date. Even just a walk through your neighborhood, and taking a moment to stare up in the trees watching the birds, has been known to provide mental health benefits. 

If you’re looking for a few books on the topic of mental health and connections to nature, check these out!

-The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us - A Diary

By Emma Mitchell. Published by Michael O’Mara

-The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative

By Florence Williams. Published by W. W. Norton & Company.

-By the Sea: The therapeutic benefits of being in, on and by the water

By Dr Deborah Cracknell. Published by Aster.

The outdoors and nature. Mental Health America. (n.d.).

UC Davis Health. (2023, May 3). 3 ways getting outside into nature helps improve your health. health.

Unplugged. (2024, March 20). What is “skychology”? how looking at the Sky Can Boost Your Wellbeing.

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