Step Into Nature

Swap Your Smartphone for the Sun

From a young age, I was always connected to nature. It all started when my dad and I would collect slugs. We would race to the stones near our house, quickly overturning them, looking for slugs. There was a competition between us to see who could get the most slimy creatures on their legs. The cold slimy trails of the slugs did not cause me to even bat an eye. I loved catching bugs, weaving through tall grass and fallen trees, looking for my next big adventure!

As I grew older, my opportunities to go outside and just be carefree started to disappear. Technology was gaining popularity, school was becoming harder, and the pressures of my peers were constantly looming above my head.

Freshman year of high school was probably the hardest year emotionally. I developed anxiety and depression due to genes, the stress of school, and being in a toxic relationship. These challenges weighed heavily on me. I was losing weight, wasn’t doing homework, and I stopped caring about myself in general.

I was seeing a therapist, but nothing seemed to be working. I ended up signing up for an internship from Student Conservation Association. I was lucky enough to get a position to work on a crew in West Virginia for 21 days doing trail work, tent camping and working outside for the entire internship. For the first time all year, I had a way to escape my depression and anxiety.

The only kicker was that electronics were not allowed. I thought this would be awful; I was so used to being able to text everyone. I was actually getting anxious. We would get our phones back only on Sundays. I wasn’t so sure about this internship anymore. I mean, no electronics? That seemed impossible to me.

Getting out in nature at first felt like a chore. Waking up early, working eight hours in a day. It was hard, but after awhile I could feel myself starting to feel genuinely happy again. My anxiety became manageable. I was enjoying life again for the first time since I had started high school. Even on the days I would get my phone back, I would call my parents and tell them some crazy story. I felt no need to constantly text or be on my phone. 

Spending time outdoors will not cure depression, but it definitely helps lift your spirits. It can even help when you are stuck on a paper or an idea.  Taking a little walk outside and just admiring your surroundings can help with your writer’s block, opening your brain to new ideas that you may not have thought of.

Even just having plants in your room can help brighten your day. It will not cure you, but I believe it should be part of your healing process. Plus, if you cannot afford medicine or a psychologist, taking daily walks in woods can help.

Mount Mary University is fortunate to have picnic tables and trails leading into a small wooded area right on campus! I have walked through the wooded area on campus in the early morn, watching the sun rise over the trees, surrounded by the chirps and whistles of native birds. 

There is also the Menomonee River Parkway sidewalk that winds through Wauwatosa. This provides a nice place to walk that is within a few minutes the campus. It is surrounded by trees and has a small creek running by the side. It’s also a great place to see people walking their dogs.

Only 6.8 miles away is the Urban Ecology Center in Menomonee Valley. It has a variety of outdoor activities and hiking trails for all to enjoy. Support your local community while also supporting your health.   

I ended up doing the internship again the following summer, and I built fences. It lasted 28 days and I am happy I got that opportunity. Through these experiences, I learned a lot about myself. I never thought I was going to be happy again when I was struggling through my worst depression days. Yet here I am five years later, finding joy in most aspects of my life.

I had no idea that finding slugs in my garden with my dad all those years ago would lead me to overcome some of the hardest moments that life presented me with, from crippling depression to body-numbing panic attacks. I will forever be grateful for the way nature has helped me continue to live, even when I wanted to give up.

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