The Power of Nature: A Monthly Mental Health Ritual
We all have our go-to self-care routines, whether it’s curling up with a good book or finding comfort in our favorite meal. But have you ever considered nature as a tool for improving your mental health? For Monica Sweigert and her friend, Tina, spending time outdoors has become a monthly ritual that has profoundly impacted their well-being.
Monica, a social work student in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Tina, a mental health counselor in Huntington, have been friends for 17 years. In October 2019, they began the tradition of taking a monthly mental health day together, including hiking through many of ACRES nature preserves. Monica particularly enjoys the trails at Kokiwanee, which offer breathtaking waterfalls, a longer hike, and ample time for their most meaningful conversations.
When asked why they prefer spending time outdoors as opposed to meeting for coffee or another activity, Monica explained that being in the woods provided an environment without distractions. The quietness of nature allowed them to talk freely. Plus, fresh air and exercise were important for their physical health.
As for the impact on their mental health, Monica noticed a more relaxed mindset going into the week after their hikes. Even the cold and rainy weather offered her tranquility.
“The sun is pretty, but so is the snow. There is so much beauty in the quiet of the trees and the snow on the branches. And you can hike in just about any weather with a great pair of socks!”
She found that witnessing the different phases of nature reminded her that not everything is pretty or perfect, but that all serve a purpose. “Sometimes you get to the beginning of the hike and you have expectations, but then the trail is super muddy. What are you going to do? Not love it even when it has been there for you? You know it has the beauty of the spring blossoms and the green after winter, you know it’s there, you just can’t always see it. But you can always appreciate it. It helps to realize we all go through phases and seasons, and some of them don’t look as pretty as others, but they are all important.” This realization helped her to better appreciate mother nature, herself, and other humans as they navigate the complexities of life.
ACRES staff first met Monica when she stopped by our office to purchase an ACRES sweatshirt to give to Tina, who was moving away at the end of April, as a token to remember the trails they walked together. Despite Tina’s move, they plan to continue their monthly ritual. Although the idea of Facetiming while hiking doesn’t appeal to her, she believes it’s worth it for the benefits.
Monica’s advice for someone who is considering spending time in nature as a tool for improving their mental health is to schedule it and make it a priority. Having a mindset that is willing and excited to take on whatever the day brings is essential, and in the end, you’ll feel much better and will have learned something about yourself.
Monica and Tina’s monthly mental health ritual demonstrates the power of nature in improving our mental health. They remind us to prioritize our mental health, nature, and friends, and to appreciate the beauty in all stages of life. So the next time you feel stressed or overwhelmed, take a hike in nature – you might be surprised at how transformative it can be.