Making time for the outdoors

Nature has a special power, but entire weeks can go by without us spending any quality time outside.

Hiking trails at Gooseberry Falls State Park
Hiking trails at Gooseberry Falls State Park in northern Minnesota.

It’s 70 degrees, the sun warms your face and radiates down through the rest of your body. You hear birds chirping, rustling leaves and feel a gentle breeze. Your shoes are off and the grass is cool and crisp beneath your feet.

The outdoors have a special power — lifting spirits, bringing focus and improving health. However, routines can all too easily take over and before we know it, entire weeks can go by without us spending any quality time outside.

Reaping the benefits of the outdoors can be especially difficult for caregivers due to their many responsibilities. Caregivers experience higher levels of stress, depression, poor sleep and various chronic health conditions than their non-caregiving peers. Stress impacts our ability to sleep, focus, problem-solve and more. As caregivers, we want to combat those effects.

Recent studies indicate that just 20 to 30 minutes outdoors can significantly decrease cortisol, your body’s stress hormone.

Ultimately, the environment around us is important to our overall health and wellbeing, for both caregivers and care receivers. Fortunately, there are many ways busy caregivers can seek out or enhance outdoor experiences:

Getting outside

  • Start a container garden.
  • Write outdoor time into your schedule — even if it’s just 15 minutes.
  • Many local and state parks have accessible spaces and/or designated times when they’re less busy, making it easier to bring the person you care for along with you.
  • Join a formal walking group — or start your own!
  • Do deep breathing outdoors — even if just for a minute or two. It may help you reset and move forward.
  • Adjust outdoor activities as needed using simple things like chairs, cushions or other adaptive equipment.
  • Seek support from others in achieving your outdoor goals whether in the form of encouragement, someone who can join you in the activity or someone to provide respite care.

Bringing the outdoors in

  • Keep indoor plants.
  • Look into the possibility of a sun lamp during winter months. Some insurance providers may cover the cost with a qualifying diagnosis.
  • Consider indoor parks and gardens to visit. Again, there may be adaptations that can be made for the person you care for or designated hours that are less busy if you would like to bring your loved one with you.
  • Consider listening to guided imagery or engage in virtual reality programs that “transport” you or the person you’re caring for to another place.

Remember: Being outside can be rejuvenating, even in the winter months! Feel the crunch of snow, the tiny snowflakes dotting your nose, the cool air in your nose and lungs.

Breathe in and out, be mindful of the moment and the connection to all that surrounds you.

Sarah Adams is a licensed social worker with FamilyMeans’ Caregiving & Aging program in Stillwater and is a member of the Metropolitan Caregiver Services Collaborative.