Health

How Camping or a Roadtrip Can Boost Mental Health – 2020 Guide

Feeling down? Tired of being at home? Need an escape? Join a growing number of people looking to get out of Dodge to go camping or RVing. In a socially distancing world where just about everyone’s cooped up at home, a safe, pandemic-approved getaway may be just the answer to help change things up and get a much-needed breather.

5 Reasons to Camp or Take a Roadtrip

Here are some reasons why camping or renting a RV to visit a state park, the beach, or just get away from the city can be good for mental health. (Read more about additional supports for mental health, including treatments, at FHE Health.)

1. Nature is healing.

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Being outside in a green and smog-free setting is known to help people feel better. There is even a thing called “forest therapy.” Research shows being in a forest, much like meditation, can be healing. Who doesn’t feel a sense of peace beside a crystal-clear lake or hearing the surf on the beach? The experience can send some people into another state of consciousness. All of a sudden, they can breathe deeply, sit, and just watch a butterfly dance around them, and for a moment, things seem at peace.

2. Getting active is good for mind and body.

Most people don’t go camping and sit in their tent the whole time. Even the nicest RV still has a door that beckons its owners outdoors-whether to walking trails, frisbee with the pooch, or a game of horseshoes with one’s significant other, or to swim or hike to the top of a mountain to take in the sights.

All of these activities help mind and body get the exercise they need, whereas, at home in a regular routine of work and other commitments, it can be far too easy to go from the office chair to the car to the couch, without getting some active time in the day. Yet that exercise can be so beneficial for the mind and body, as well as for sleep, so it’s worth the effort.

3. New sights and sounds (or no sounds, in the wilderness) improve brain health.

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The human brain thrives from taking in new things. In a new environment, people tend to be more alert and conscious of their inner state. They get to notice and explore. Meanwhile, their brain is taking in new information. The overall sensation can be one of feeling more alive (as opposed to operating in the same auto-pilot mode of a regular day-to-day routine). Being more present in the moment and obsessing less about daily worries and stresses can be a very therapeutic timeout for the mind.

4. Disconnecting from technology lifts mood and can foster a deeper connection.

One thing people can all agree on-with maybe the exception of teenagers-is that getting away from computers, TVs, and phones are really good for the mood. Nothing says “Don’t email me” to coworkers quite like camping where there’s no cell phone reception. It’s an automatic pass from answering work email or having to be available at the beck and call of anyone really, whether one’s boss, Grandma and Grandpa or the nosy neighbor.

The beauty of being able to disconnect from electronics is the chance to focus on oneself, those relationships that matter most, or on nothing at all. Leaving the electronics behind maybe a little weird at first. By the end of the trip, though, those memorable moments of rest and connection will be well-worth ditching the computer for a weekend. Chances are when given that experience, most people won’t be regretting they left their computer behind and forfeited the chance to answer more emails.

5. Taking an active adventure renews the soul with a sense of wonder and relaxation.

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Camping or RVing is an active getaway, as opposed to a passive vacation like lying on the beach or going to the spa. Planning a trip, seeing something new, doing something different, cooking s’mores around a campfire—these things add up to an “other-worldly” experience. If that cell phone doesn’t work, even better! Do something that expands life, and if while on this adventure ESPN isn’t working, take a nap. With the on-time being adventure and the off-time being relaxation, these trips can have just the amount of both to make for a good vacation for the soul.

Why Self-Care Is Essential

These five reasons to go camping or RVing are effective self-care strategies, and self-care is essential to staying healthy mentally and physically—especially right now. Taking time to get out in nature, doing something new, choosing intentionally how to spend one’s time, being “out of one’s element”—when every road or path leads to a new and different place or vista, that’s really living.

Life is more than work and carpools. Everyone can use a break. Camping or RVing is a real departure for people. Yes, it’s a “working” vacation, in some respects: setting up camp, figuring the tent out, backing up the RV into its designated space, but each day signifies a new experience and something great. Getting outside. Getting out of oneself. Visiting a place that enlarges one’s sensory experience. Having uninterrupted “me” time.

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How Even the Challenges Can Be Good for Mental Health

Oh, and one last thing: From a survey of all of the mental health benefits of camping or a road trip, it may be easy to idealize these experiences. But things will go wrong. Who hasn’t heard of the rained-out camping trip? When Dad struggles to get the tent up, the marshmallows come out like coal, or the bread in the cooler gets all soggy, those are some of the best stories and funniest memories.

Usually, it’s not all bad, but it is entertaining. The same probably can’t be said of the last time a friend shared their favorite highlights of a weekend on the couch watching re-runs of “Game of Thrones” or when the next-door neighbor provided a blow-by-blow account of their recent purchase history on Amazon.

Exactly.

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When life is short, camping or RVing offers an opportunity to make a good story out of valuable, free time. This benefit in itself—being able to craft a more amusing life story that elicits a healthy sense of pride and some chuckles—can be great for mental health. To start feeling better, get out and do something fun, but at least, do something.

This article was provided by Dr. Beau A. Nelson, DBH, LCSW, Director of Clinical Services at FHE Health.

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