Nature is Therapy

Artist Andy Goldswoorthy once said, “We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.” 

The prevailing Western conception of nature is of something separate from human beings and there is a long colonial history associated with the divergence between humans and nature. What’s more, research suggests that this divergence has negative consequences for health and well-being. 

In our vastly disconnected modern world, many people enter therapy in the hopes of connecting with themselves. And while therapy is an important step in the process of connecting with oneself, as long as we are estranged from and acting destructively towards the land, we are disconnected from and harming an aspect of ourselves.

Nature, Health, and Well-Being

Connecting with the natural world is essential for well-being. Spending time in nature is associated with positive health and wellbeing benefits.

Fascinating research has shown that simply viewing a natural setting through a window improved patients recovery from a medical procedure. The same results were found by adding a live plant to a hospital room. These are exciting discoveries because it tells us that the health and well-being benefits of nature go beyond the benefits of exercise which is often a part of spending time outdoors, or other factors such as sunlight or fresh air. What these results tell us is that there is something inherent in nature (or natural spaces) that has restorative and healing benefits. 

Being outdoors and spending time in nature can decrease symptoms of stress, anxiety, and isolation, and improve cognitive processes. Spending just 30 minutes in a natural environment a few times a week can have a lasting impact on well-being. You do not need to go on a wilderness adventure to experience the benefits of nature, but rather, a walk in your neighbourhood, or a visit to the local park are great ways to get outdoors. 

Disparities in Accessing the Therapeutic Benefits of Nature

Sadly, connecting with nature may be more difficult for some than others. The outdoor spaces in the United States are entangled with a racist and colonial history of indigenous communities being forced out of their homes and the outdoors has been the backdrop of slaverly and racial violence. 

Moreover, today the outdoor industry greatly lacks diversity and representation, and there are many barriers to outdoor recreation, such as the costs of transportation and gear. When discussing the mental health benefits of connecting with nature, it is important to recognize that the outdoors is not yet a safe or inclusive space for everyone. 

There are many ways to make the outdoors safe and inclusive for all. For example, it is important to support organizations that provide opportunities, resources, and outdoor education to communities that are underserved. For example, Memphis Roxs is a climbing gym and community in Memphis in a primarily Black neighborhood that offers access to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay for a membership. Donating to or volunteering at an organization like Memphis Roxs helps provide a unique opportunity for many people who would not otherwise have the means to experience this sport. To learn more and support Memphis Roxs, click here.

Alongside supporting programs and organizations like Memphis Roxs, we must also be  welcoming to new faces in outdoor space. Oftentimes in the outdoor industry there is a collective mindset that spaces should be kept secret for the “locals” and that people should not be recreating outdoors if they do not have top of the line outdoor gear.  

This mindset creates an outdoor culture that is unwelcoming. Rather than keeping the spaces exclusive for a select few, share information with new visitors on how they can enjoy the spaces safely and respectfully. Be kind and helpful to everyone, regardless of their gear or their skill level. 

As we all navigate the ongoing pandemic lock downs, being in nature is a safe and responsible way to spend time away from your home. Ultimately, the outdoors can be a space for healing. There are so many little ways to engage with the natural world from planting a garden, to walking in your local park. Challenge yourself to spend 30 minutes outdoors today and pay attention to how it makes you feel. 

Of course, if you’d like accountability in making positive life changes — like increasing the amount of time you spend in nature — we’re happy to help. California Women’s Therapy is currently accepting new clients for virtual psychotherapy. Learn more by visiting www.CaliforniaWomensTherapy.com

This blog was written by Rachel Lansman, an intern at California Women’s Therapy.

Sources: 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/17043718_View_Through_a_Window_May_Influence_Recovery_from_Surgery
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44097-3
https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing

Managing Your Mental Health This Winter Season

Managing Your Mental Health This Winter Season

Though the holidays are something to look forward to and celebrate for many, this time leading up to the new year can also bring about several sources of stress. From family gatherings to holiday obligations to New Year’s resolutions, the winter season can often lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression. 

When submerged in the constant buzz of the holidays, it can be difficult to find ways to break from activities that you do not enjoy and address the overwhelming feelings you may be experiencing. Here are some tips to help in fighting the winter blues.

Navigating Winter Gatherings

Holiday gatherings, especially when it comes to complicated family dynamics, can be difficult to manage. For those who have tumultuous relationships with their family, this time of year can be especially hard on mental health. There may be discussions about past mistakes, politics, future ambitions, and other anxiety-producing topics and tensions can arise in ways that only induce more stress. 

In these situations, setting boundaries can be extremely useful. This may mean staying at home for the holidays, choosing to not discuss certain topics that are overwhelming for you, or spending less time interacting with difficult relatives. Planning ahead can also play a crucial part in avoiding or reducing stress. Knowing the people, conversations, or situations that trigger your stress or anxiety and preparing several coping skills (deep breathing, taking a moment to yourself in the bathroom, calling a friend, etc.) ahead of time may give you an increased sense of control over the situation as well as decreasing potential sources of stress. Navigating complicated family situations may be hard, but you are only in control of your own behavior and reactions, so don’t expect others to change. Rather practice acceptance, and take steps to prioritize your own needs

In 2020, winter gatherings also have another layer that can contribute to a sense of loneliness or stress – COVID-19. The pandemic calls for socially-distanced holiday celebrations, so while many of us may not be able to gather in person. Using video conferencing tools like Zoom or FaceTime may allow your family and friends to feel a sense of togetherness while keeping everyone safe. Remember – you don’t have to commit to everything you are invited to, especially if you don’t feel mentally or physically safe in those spaces. Gathering virtually throughout the winter may not be the same, but remind yourself that this is temporary – we will make it through!

Addressing Feelings of Loneliness

Along with the presents, family get-togethers, and nostalgia that often accompanies the holiday season, there may also come unhappy memories, toxic relatives, and isolation — especially in the time of COVID-19. For those who may be battling feelings of depression and loneliness as we build to the new year, it is important to take steps to prioritize your mental health

If you are feeling lonely or deprived of your usual social interactions during the holidays, check-in and celebrate with your loved ones through video calls, care packages, or socially distanced get-togethers. Moreover, focusing on having meaningful conversations with your social connections during this time of year can be helpful.

 It can feel difficult to be fully present as you are conversing with your friends and family, but asking questions that allow others to talk more deeply about themselves may allow for more fulfilling connections and decreased feelings of loneliness. It is so important to not ignore these feelings of isolation, but rather to treat them in the ways available to you. This may include regular calls, video chats, texts, emails, or meeting up with loved ones for socially-distanced activities.

Finding Joy Throughout The Holidays

It can be easy to fall into a routine of only focusing on the negative aspects of this time of year. Still, finding joy in novel places and being intentional with your holiday activities may be helpful in easing feelings of depression and sadness. Practicing intentional gratitude is often a good place to start. Try writing down or repeating to yourself what you’re grateful for every morning (whether that be your family, a yummy meal, your furry friend, or anything else that you feel especially fortunate for that day). 

Taking time to intentionally focus on the good in your life may help shift your focus from thoughts that are bringing you down. Moreover, sending that gratitude out into the world can bring back a sense of joy and fulfillment. If you have the means, consider donating to a nonprofit organization that you connect with or volunteering (in person or online) for an organization that aims to help those who may not have as much this winter season. 

As for day-to-day tokens of happiness, when you find yourself ruminating on sad memories, long to-do lists, or anxiety-producing future events, look to small things that bring you joy. It could be as simple as a funny video, a sweet text from a friend, or a fond memory captured in a photograph – the little things can provide us with a temporary escape from the craziness of the holiday season.

Lessening Stress For The New Year

Stress around the holidays can become overwhelming, but one resolution you might consider is taking steps to lessen your anxiety and change your winter routine. Though it may be hard to focus on your health when you are feeling overwhelmed, your mental and physical well-being are of utmost importance. In other words, put yourself first

This means getting enough sleep (seven to nine hours, though it may be hard), avoiding excessive drinking that may cluster in the winter season, eating warm (and delicious) meals, getting outside (if possible), and trying to incorporate physical activity as part of your daily routine. These changes don’t have to happen overnight – ease into a routine that brings you stability and focuses on activities that lessen your stress instead of adding to it. 

For those holiday events and traditions that you feel obligated to partake in and yet only end up increasing your levels of stress, take a step back and ask yourself,  “Do I really have to do this?” If you feel that the event isn’t necessary and will only add to your anxiety, take some control over your plans and cross a few things off your calendar. If traditions and pre-set plans are no longer making you happy, it’s time to make a change. 

For when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or panicky in the moment, however trivial it may seem, take a few deep breaths. During the holidays it can be hard to physically excuse yourself, so focusing on your breathing – something you can control – can be helpful in lessening the effects of stress and anxiety. And remember, if you are still feeling depressed or anxious, and these feelings extend beyond the whirlwind of the holiday season, consider reaching out for professional help. 

The blog post was written by CWT intern, Maddie Susi.

California Women’s Therapy is currently accepting new clients for virtual psychotherapy, couple’s counseling, and postpartum mental health support. Learn more at www.CaliforniaWomensTherapy.com

20 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic is all over the news and is impacting our lives in many ways. Here in California (as well as many other states and countries), people are “sheltering in place” and “safer at home.” Schools are closed, many businesses are closed, and many of the people who do still have jobs are now working from home.

It should come as no surprise that this has triggered significant anxiety and fear, especially for those with preexisting mental health challenges. Many individuals who were already struggling with anxiety, depression, or chronic stress are now experiencing an intensification of their symptoms. And some people are experiencing heightened anxiety for the first time.

Common mental health symptoms associated with the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic:

  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Changes in appetite (reduced appetite or increased “stress eating”)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased mood swings (including irritability, anger, etc.)
  • Increased misuse of mood-altering substances (alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs)

Here are 20 tips for coping with the anxiety and stress triggered by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic:

(1) Limit the amount of time you spend watching the news or reading about this topic, and only seek information about what’s happening from reliable sources.

(2) Get enough sleep

(3) Stay physically active and exercise regularly

(4) Focus on nutrition

(5) Stay well hydrated

(6) Practice deep breathing

(7) Try meditation

(8) Listen to relaxing music

(9) Read something unrelated to current events

(10) Limit your caffeine intake

(11) Create something

(12) Avoid turning to alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs as a means of emotional coping

(13) Read or watch things that make you laugh

(14) Focus on planning for the future after this crisis has passed.

(15) Speak regularly with loved ones and friends (phone calls, texts, live video, emails and social media are all great options).

(16) Seek out positive stories of others helping those in need.

(17) Find ways to help others stay safe and healthy during this time.

(18) Spend time in sunlight when and where possible.

(19) Journal about your thoughts and feelings.

(20) Share your feelings openly with the people you trust.

If you’d like accountability in implementing these strategies or are in need of additional support, please know that we’re here to help remotely (through live video or telephone). Our initial consultations are always free.

Practice Mindful Gratitude All Year Long

Expressing gratitude is good for your health and your relationships.

Most of us will be sitting around the table for Thanksgiving dinner (or lunch) today. Many families have a tradition of going around the table and asking each person to take a moment to share the things they are grateful for. This is a wonderful tradition; unfortunately, expressing gratitude seems to be something we’re only reminded to do once a year!

When it comes to practicing gratitude, many of us fall short. It’s easy to get caught up in daily tasks, challenges, and concerns. We focus primarily on our troubles and then wonder why we’re feeling so tired and unhappy much of the time.

Practicing mindful gratitude — and being thankful for things all year long — will improve your physical health, your mental health, and your relationships. 

Improved Physical Health

Gratitude helps improve your physical health in many ways. According to a 2013 study published by the Journal Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and are more likely to take care of their physical health. Improved self-care with have a positive impact on your mood, your willpower, and your sleep.

Improved Mental Health

Regularly practicing gratitude can help you to appreciate yourself more and improve your self-esteem. By being grateful for the many blessings in your life (both big and small), you’ll be less envious of the seemingly “perfect” lives of those in your social media feed. Avoiding negative thoughts helps to booster both your self-esteem and your mood. Gratitude has been found to ease depressed as you stay mindful of reasons to appreciate the positive things I your life and, thereby, reasons to be happy.

Improved Relationships

Saying “thank you” is more than just good manners. It’s a way of expressing our gratitude. This attitude of gratitude can help you to improve existing relationships as well lead to new friendships. As you practice gratitude on a regular basis, you’ll recognize and create stronger binds with the positive people in your life.

Finding reasons to be and to stay grateful can sometimes be challenging. Life can often test us in ways we feel we’re not prepared to handle. However, with these significant benefits to practicing regular mindfulness, it’s well worth the effort to make practicing mindful gratitude a priority in your life.

If you’re looking for guidance and direction on how to practice mindful gratitude, I’m happy to help. Initial consultations are always free. Visit us at CaliforniaWomensTherapy.com to learn more.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I’m grateful that you’ve taken the time to read this post.