Tangible Rewards: Mental Health Gains and Wild

I have spoken before about the “tangible” rewards of being in the wild. How the challenges of the wild can make you be a healthier person. I touched on the mental health benefits while really sinking into the weight loss and overall health benefits of being in the wild. Mental health benefits appear to be on the outside pretty hard to measure for some, and thus intangible. However, for me, I believe the mental health rewards are VERY tangible when it comes to the wild.

Since we do live outside of how we are ancestrally, by living most of our lives working and playing indoors. We work in offices lit with artificial lights, we wake before the sun is up and sleep long after the sun is down. We eat crappy foods, we are overworked, overstressed, and we are horrible at processing modern stress. We are simply just not that used to it, we have only been out of the woods for a relatively short period of time.

What do I mean by that? I mean that in the course of human history we have lived in the woods for most of our 200,000 or so year existence as “modern humans”. Only in the past few thousand or so years have we taken steps to leave the woods behind, and really only in the past few hundred years have we been anything close to successful in departing our connection with the wild.

We no longer live hand-to-mouth, our stresses no longer come from starving, being cold, finding fresh water, or avoiding predators or other tribes. Deadlines, meetings, kids, appointments, traffic, social media, family pressures, societal pressures, a crappy boss…these are the modern stresses that we face as humans. These are fairly new to us, and we have a hard time processing and understanding this “new” world we live in, so there is a need to “go back”.

Now I am no mental health expert, I can only tell you what worked for me and what I have seen and experienced. I have severe PTSD from trauma growing up and working overseas in West Africa. That, coupled with trying to live a “normal” life like everyone else made life for me crippling. I could not function in public, I hated living but I was too proud to die or give up. I could, however, function just fine in the wild.

Everything you do while in the wild, is physical and essential for your comfort. You need to gather wood for the fire so you can eat, have coffee, be warm, and have light. All of these things require you to be physical and moving in order to make them happen. This effects you mentally as well. It gives you purpose. You have a reason for doing what you are doing and that is not something most of us experience.

We work all day in offices, or out or other jobs that we may actually even enjoy. I work in a museum part time and I adore that work. However, I am doing that job, for me to have extra money for food, clothing, shelter. I am doing “something” for money and in return, I make that into what I need to live. In the wild, everything I do is simplified down to what is needed in order to survive and be comfortable. This breakdown of complex to simple had a profound effect on my mind as well. I was starting to see that connection to the wild and the modern world. As a result, my mind started to change.

I was more comfortable in public, I could work normal, mundane jobs that did not require me to be in remote locations. I live in a town now, surrounded by people. The wild was able to show me a lot about myself because of how simplified everything is out there.

Beyond the simplicity, there is a lot more going on with being in the wild in terms of better mental health. Being in better shape physically does wonders for the mind, but it is a lot more than that as well. The fresh air, hard work, and strain on the bodies (not the mind) give you a break from your everyday stress. You can focus on the task at hand, because it’s really hard to worry about a deadline when you are hiking up a hill in mid-august in 95-degree heat. You are thinking about how hot you are and how happy you will be when you reach the summit to that alpine lake where the golden trout live. The sun, fresh air…are recharging your mental batteries.

For most of us, the combination of the simple life while in the wild, plus all the effort of involved just BEING outdoors we become tired by the time the sun is setting. We feel downright exhausted, but it’s not a miserable exhaustion. You can look back with pride at the miles you crossed, the ground you gained, the fish you caught, and the sights you saw. So when you sleep, you sleep good and hard.

You wake refreshed, recharged and full of life. It might still require a cup of coffee in order for you to get going, which requires a fire and some effort. You will face that effort with ease and know the tangible reward of coffee. The simplicity of life in the wild will improve every aspect of your health, both physical and mental.

We belong in the wild, go and visit it sometime so you can remember. Your mind, and your body will forever thank you.