Take a Hike!

A few weeks ago I finished up a class called Stress and Pain, and it was really good!  Hands down one of my favorite classes at Southern Utah University!  There is a lot to this class, and I’ll talk about parts of it later.  For now, though, I’d like to talk about Ecotherapy.

What is Ecotherapy?  Ecotherapy is a fairly new term in Psychology, coined by Howard Clinebell in his 1996 book Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth.  According to Clinebell, Ecotherapy is interacting with the natural environment to promote physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual healing.  

Have you ever heard someone say that they were so upset that they needed to go for a walk to cool off?  They were actually on to something.  In the book we used for the class: Managing Stress by Brian Luke Seward, Seward mentioned a few different studies where environment helped calm and even heal people.  In one study, people who were shown images of nature, their serotonin levels increased.  In another study, people shown these images of nature reported decreased sense of anger.

There was a lot more information in this book as well as countless studies on the subject, but you have to remember that a lot of this is theory.  You also have to remember that this isn’t a cure-all; and what works for one person may not work for another.  That being said, being outside in nature is probably the easiest and most accessible thing we have out there to break us out of a funk or help clear our minds when we feel a little overwhelmed.

Another point to keep in mind is that you can’t get the full benefit of nature if you’re not experiencing fully.  If you’re hiking and listening to music, texting or calling, or even just sleeping outside, you will get some benefits, yes.  However, you will get so much more out of it if you either put your phone away or use it to take pictures.  I’m not suggesting that all technology is bad, but take just a few minutes break from it and let all of your sense experience what nature has to offer.  You won’t regret it.

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It’s Not Failure: It’s Room For Improvement

Just last week I decided to quit drinking soda, especially caffeine.  I know that I need to lose weight, but more than that, I need to be healthier.  My dad has heart problems and recently I’ve been realizing that I should take care of myself while I’m still young.  I also started walking again but not every day, but that’s something I want to start doing soon.

So the first couple of days weren’t too bad.  On Tuesday I had a slight headache but nothing intolerable.  However, Thursday I actually thought I was sick.  I was weak, my sinuses were stuffed up and I just didn’t feel well.  I decided to “screw it” and drank a can of Dr. Pepper.  I only slightly regretted it :P.  However, I didn’t have another after that.

At first I was very disappointed in myself.  I was beating myself up, saying “Liz, you were doing so well, why would you give in and make yourself start over like that?!”  However, I don’t think I have to start over.  In fact, I was feeling more alert and healthier on Saturday than I had on Wednesday.  I don’t know why, but I’ll take it!  🙂

I changed my perspective after that.  I realized I didn’t fail.  I’m not a failure.  We all make mistakes, but that’s okay.  That’s how we grow and learn.  So I saw it as an accomplishment, and my whole outlook changed.  I went from 3-4 Dr. Peppers a day to 1 in one week.  That’s amazing for me!

However, there’s also room for improvement.  If I just say “Wow, that’s amazing, look at me!” I might justify having just one this week.  Which will turn into two…and then I’ll end up where I started.  And that’s not good.

So if I say “Hey, I did amazing this week by only allowing myself one soda!  Let’s see if I can go without ANY next week!” I am much more likely to have results than if I say “Hey, I was amazing this week!”  Instead of beating myself up, I’m challenging myself to do better.  I’ll keep challenging myself.  I might be tired but I already feel better.  I don’t need caffeine, I just need sleep!  🙂

Change your perspective from ‘I failed!’ to ‘I have room for improvement.’  Maybe you had one piece of chocolate when you’re not eating candy.  That’s okay, you can do better later!  Sometimes in life, in order to move forward, you have to take a step back.  Life is like a cha-cha; as long as you keep dancing, you’re doing great.

Gratitude Journal

Keeping a journal is hard.  Our lives are so busy that we don’t feel like we have time to stop and write in a journal every night.

However, several studies have shown that taking time out in our busy lives to stop and give thanks for things we have in our lives dramatically makes our lives better.  I can testify that this works at least for me.  At the college I attended, one of the students and a professor decided to run their own study to find the correlation between keeping a gratitude journal and the level of happiness in participants.

I wish I could remember the details and results, but I can tell you about my result.  I was assigned to write in my journal every day for a month, talking about something good that happened that day, or something I was grateful for.  At first it was really easy, but then I noticed I really had to look at each day carefully, so I wouldn’t repeat things from previous days.  I was actually noticing the colors in a sunset, the vibrancy of a rainbow, the relief of a breeze on a hot day, the pleasant song of birds; all these things stuck out a lot more when I was paying attention, rather than just going along my day as I normally did.  I also noticed it meant a lot more to me when someone held the door open for me or thanked me for holding the door open for them, rather than expecting it.

Not only that, but I also noticed that I was happier.  No matter what happened that day, if someone was rude or if I messed up, it was okay.  I was still happy in the end, because life was beautiful, and as soon as I could get to my journal and look at it, I would remember that.

Unfortunately, I didn’t keep up with it after the study, and lately I’ve been really depressed.  It’s been hard to be happy lately despite my best efforts.

I also had to write in a journal when I studied abroad in Spain (details coming about that trip too).  Not only was it a great experience to sit down and recall my day, it also helped me to realize where I was and what I learned that day, educationally, spiritually, and emotionally.

So, I offer a challenge, and I am going to be doing it too.  Keep a journal every night for just a month.  Write one thing that happened that day that was good, or something you’re grateful for.  I’m going to start on August 1st and report back on September 1st.

If it doesn’t change your life, then you can choose to never do it again.  Trust me though, you’ll see the world a little differently.