Self-care tips are everywhere these days. But we think they’re most powerful when you take them outside.
I learned the importance of self-care the hard way, through collapse, after years of ignoring my body’s requests for more rest and less stress, and a lifetime of pushing my needs to the side in favor of others’. A car runs out of gas if it’s driven without refueling, and it’s the same for us; we need to “refuel” with self-care.
The great outdoors is the perfect place to start establishing self-care practices. And summer is a convenient time to kick up your self-care game.
Long days and warm weather invite us to get off the couch and spend time in the sun. If you’re camping, hiking, and getting outside for activities that bring you joy, you’re likely already participating in some self-care practices without even knowing it. But with a little more intention and centering, your time spent outdoors can be even more valuable for your well-being.
Self-Care Tips (and some science behind them) to Get You Outside
The following outdoor self-care tips are proven to help you chill out and recharge. All you need to do is show up (for yourself) and let Mama Nature work her magic.
1. Stop and smell the flowers
According to behavioral research conducted at Rutgers University, nature provides us with a simple way to improve emotional health: flowers. “Common sense tells us that flowers make us happy,” said Dr. Haviland-Jones. “Now, science shows that not only do flowers make us happier than we know, they have strong positive effects on our emotional wellbeing.”
Chinese Medicine Practitioners believe flowers help us manage our emotions and cultivate desired qualities like joy or peace. Their vibrant colors stimulate our senses, triggering the production of melatonin, a calming hormone, and serotonin, a hormone that elevates our mood. Bonus, spending time outdoors among flowers invites “magical” beings like butterflies, hummingbirds, and dragonflies, inspiring a sense of wonder and awe, which puts minor stressors, like traffic, into perspective.
2. Catch the sunrise and the sunset
Artificial lighting and electronics, which we’re surrounded by, compromise our natural sleep patterns by keeping us amped up and unable to unwind. If like many, you could do with a few more Z’s, start with unplugging from your phone, TV, and computer at least three hours before bed, and lowering your caffeine intake.
When you’re ready to mix some pleasure with your pursuit for better sleep, you can reset your natural circadian (sleep) rhythm by getting outside to watch the sunrise in the morning and sunset in the evening. One study showed the most effective way to reset your sleep schedule is to go camping. Even in the winter, there’s enough natural light to shift your internal rhythm.
3. Take a walk every day
Thirteen years ago my life was changed when Oprah Winfrey asked her guest, Dr. Oz, to share the single most important thing we can do to improve our health. Oz answered, “Walk for 30-minutes a day, every day, no matter what.” This self-care tip provides a wealth of health benefits from reducing stress to weight management.
Up until that moment, I’d watched the entire show feeling inadequate because I wasn’t ready to heed his health advice and quit smoking or change my diet. But I thought, “I can walk 30-minutes a day!” And for thirteen years I have.
An important aspect of self-care is accepting our current limitations and finding the form of self-care tips that make sense for us. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not someone who wants to hike fifteen miles on a Saturday. Instead, take baby steps towards transformation, like a short walk outside after dinner.
4. Soak your stress away
Soaking in hot springs for health (balneotherapy) has been practiced for centuries in countries like Europe and Asia, where to this day, it’s recommended as preventative and allopathic medicine. While the purported benefits are not proven, they’re said to be many, including improving skin conditions like eczema and lessening the pain caused by arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Sulfur is said to relieve nasal congestion, while calcium and sodium bicarbonate are said to enhance circulation. For myself, the sense of relaxation I feel in hot springs is all the proof I need to know that the Ancient Romans were on to something good.
I was reminded of the psychological benefits of ‘taking in the waters’ during a recent trip to the [Glen Ivy] hot springs in California to grieve the loss of one of my dearest friends. Instead of sinking into my sorrow – which nearly drowned me in the past – I opted to celebrate my friend’s life by following her teachings. When you are hurting, depleted, or otherwise rundown, a day of self-care is exactly what Kim Sonsini, a Clinical Nutritionist and Holistic Health Coach, would prescribe.
5. Jump in the water to get in the flow
Many of us carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, or at least that’s what it feels like. Experts frequently guide us to ‘relax and let go’, but how exactly do we do that?
For me, time spent swimming is as rejuvenating as drinking cold water after an intense workout. The sense of weightlessness we feel in water helps lighten our mood, washing away stress as our body releases tension.
I also find floating on a raft to be very relaxing; it’s like being held, gently carried by the water, my only job to enjoy the moment. The next time you’re feeling unsupported or overwhelmed, consider floating down a river or in a pool.
6. Grow your own food
While it might sound like adding more work to your already overflowing plate, gardening is a proven stress reliever that improves our health. Gardening serves as a mindfulness practice; it’s a form of “moving meditation,” allowing us to connect with the earth and to the present moment. It’s considered a form of exercise by many, because it is work, but the bonus is that you get to eat your reward! Gardening is a form of “Earthing” if you dig in with your bare hands.
7. Walk barefoot outside
Emerging scientific research proves physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth is beneficial to our health. The conundrum is that our modern lifestyle often inhibits such contact. We’ve become indoor dwellers, while in truth, we are beings who thrive in the outdoors.
Research suggests this disconnect may be a major contributor to physiological dysfunction and unwellness. Luckily, there’s a simple solution: go outside, take off your shoes, and walk in the grass. Walking barefoot outside is a practice known as “Earthing” or “Grounding,” beneficial to our health and well-being because the negative ions from the earth help absorb positive ions within us that cause disease.
8. Dance in the rain
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of taking ‘showers’ outside during summer rainstorms (sans lightning, of course). There was a joyful sense of silliness about it that tickles me to this day.
Having fun is an integral part of self-care. We work hard, and it’s equally important that we play hard, too. Dancing in the rain is a great way to connect with the kid inside of you. It can also be emotionally cleansing when done consciously and deliberately, like “Rain, cleanse me of anger and resentment”, or envisioning the rain washing away your stress.
Bonus: If you dance in the rain you might see a rainbow.
9. Watch the stars
A big part of self-care is nourishing the kid within us, which fuels our passion and playfulness, heightening our enthusiasm for life and sense of joy; qualities that diminish when we’re burdened by life’s obligations. Gazing at the stars at night helps awaken our sense of magnificence, it’s a great opportunity to ponder the ‘bigger picture’, and if we’re lucky, we can make wishes on shooting stars. Stargazing can also be very romantic, and sometimes bonding with our beloved in an intimate way is exactly the kind of self-care tips we need.
10. Picnic in the park
Another great way to unplug from the world and tune in with yourself (a key to these and other self-care tips) is by savoring your meal outside, rather than in a noisy restaurant filled with distractions. Outdoor options are plentiful; you can throw down a blanket near a river or lake, picnic under the trees in a park, or plan a delicious meal for your next camping trip. Plus, you can bring finger foods you eat with your hands, another way to make your inner-child giggle with delight.
- Redfish Camping, Outlet Campground, Custer County, ID
- Timothy Lake Camping, Mount Hood National Forest, OR
- Jetty Park
- Cisco Grove Campground and RV Park, Emigrant Gap, CA