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Mother hiking with baby

How getting outdoors can improve your mental health right now

Mother hiking with baby2

November 17, 2020

By Nicole Arzt, LMFT

Living through a global pandemic isn’t easy. We’re all living out of our comfort zones right now and experiencing the massive uncertainty of the unknown future.

That said, it’s paramount to take care of your mental health during these trying times. Many people have found immense relief by simply going outside. Let’s get into the benefits of being in nature and how you can continue prioritizing this need during the colder and darker months.

How going outside can reduce stress

Pandemic aside, parenting is undoubtedly stressful. On any given day, you might be juggling anything from sleep deprivation to toddler tantrums to yet another load of laundry. And this year, you might also be working from home, homeschooling, or helping your children with distance learning.

Stress can compound quickly, but we don’t always recognize the toll it takes on our well-being. Instead, many mothers power through their days trying to cross off their to-do list items and get everything done. This cycle can be exhausting, and it can also be defeating, particularly when you realize it’s impossible to do everything!

It’s essential to take care of your stress regularly. Research shows that spending time in a natural environment (i.e., outside) can improve your mental health. Being outdoors is associated with increased happiness, mindfulness, and overall life satisfaction.

Additionally, nature can help you feel more recharged. There is a restorative effect that comes with disconnecting yourself from the normal routine. Being outside, even if it’s just for just a few minutes, can rejuvenate your attention, focus, and creativity.

Finally, research shows that spending time outdoors can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. One study found that participants who took a nature walk showed lower brain activity in their prefrontal cortexes, the area of the brain responsible for stress and ruminating thoughts.

Why children need time outdoors

With screen time becoming more and more popular, some experts have used the term, nature deficit disorder, to define the lack of children spending time outside. Getting outdoors is important for children at every developmental stage. Even young babies need to absorb and explore the world around them.

Outdoor play is associated with numerous benefits, including:

  • Creativity and imaginative play
  • Sensory experiences.
  • Physical fitness
  • Increased independence
  • Sunlight, which can promote Vitamin D
  • Learning about nature and caring for the environment around them
  • Understanding tranquility and peace
  • Problem-solving skills

You can enhance the quality time you spend with your family by getting outside. Let’s get into the best tips.

How to get outdoors with your family

The more you promote an outdoor lifestyle, the more opportunities you give your children to appreciate everything the outside world offers. Don’t just wait for occasional vacations or the weekend to get outside. You can build outdoor adventures into each day.

Eat meals outside
Kids love picnics! Embrace alfresco dining by eating one of your meals outside each day. Consider investing in a nice outdoor table with comfortable seating for everyone. If it’s cold, you may want to consider purchasing a heat lamp or installing a small fire pit.

Take family walks
Try to schedule a consistent walk at least once a day. Commit to taking this walk, rain or shine. Kids thrive on structure, and knowing you have this planned activity also helps you adjust your schedule accordingly.

If your children are old enough, you can ask for their input. For example, maybe you all decide that Tuesdays are walks to the park, and Thursdays are walks to the bagel shop.

Get the right gear
Investing in high-quality gear can excite your children (and you) to spend more time outdoors. Whether it’s upgrading your child’s bike or getting yourself a new winter jacket, it’s important to make sure you all feel prepared for your adventures!

Try a new activity together
The cold months lend a hand to so many outdoor activities like snowboarding, skiing, and ice-skating. Plan weekend outings where you can all participate in one of these activities. You may just stumble upon a new family tradition.

Final thoughts

We all need to practice self-care this year. Things are stressful, but managing that stress is critical for your well-being. Fortunately, you don’t need to spend excess time or money focused on bettering yourself. The key to improving your well-being may be just outside your front door.


University of East Anglia. (2018, July 6). It's official -- spending time outside is good for you. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 5, 2020 from

Pearson, D. G., & Craig, T. (2014). The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 1178. Retrieved from

Warber, S. L., DeHudy, A. A., Bialko, M. F., Marselle, M. R., & Irvine, K. N. (2015). Addressing "Nature-Deficit Disorder": A Mixed Methods Pilot Study of Young Adults Attending a Wilderness Camp. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2015, 651827. Retrieved from

Nicole Arzt is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with nearly a decade of experience treating women's issues related to parenting and family dynamics, complex trauma, and substance use disorders. She is the proud mama of her newborn son.

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