I suffer quite badly from anxiety, which hit me like a rock postnatally. I’ve been diagnosed with post natal anxiety, depression and PTSD from my traumatic birth. I’ve talked about how anxiety sucks and how it can make me feel, but I also want to talk about the positive side of things and what can be done about that. You may not realize that something as simple as going camping with your family can have massive mental health benefits (even if your back is hurting a bit more by the end of the weekend).
Camping is something that can be done even by complete beginners. With a bit of equipment and a family-friendly campsite you can be ready to go. I’m not talking about packing up and going up a mountain or hiking into the dark woods, but open spaces in family friendly campsites with modern conveniences like a shop, cafe, clean toilets, showers and laundry facilities are still really great for your mental health and here’s why.
How camping can improve your mental health
Getting outdoors and enjoying nature improves your mental health
Going outside has been proven in studies to lower your levels of cortisol – and this increases when you spend time away and outside the city. Cortisol is a marker for stress, so our bodies are physically telling us that we’re getting less stressed. Spending time with natural helps mental fatigue, increases energy, decreases anxiety and bad moods and just generally boosts self-esteem and mood. Camping will maximise the time you spend outdoors and that is simply invaluable. Being near water also increases these benefits even further, so if you can find a campsite that’s near a lake or the ocean then you’re really going to get the maximum benefit.
Getting exercise improves your mental health
When you’re struggling mentally it can be really hard to get out of the rut and push yourself to go to the gym. This can be especially overwhelming for parents who are already existing on less sleep than they need resulting in low energy and simply not enough time in the day, although running around after a toddler all day is a workout in itself! Camping naturally encourages you to exercise more without it feeling like a chore. Whether it’s setting up the tent, exploring the surrounding area, or heading to the bathroom block, you’re going to find at the end of the weekend you’ve racked up an impressive amount of steps. Your muscles may be sore, but exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment, relieving stress with the release of endorphins.
Add this extra exercise to the fresh air and natural light cycle you’re getting and you should also find that despite not having your comfortable bed to sleep in, you get a good night’s sleep which will have a knock on positive affect to your mental health. One of the first things my mental health supporter suggested to me when I was initially diagnosed with postnatal depression and anxiety was I should try and exercise more – even if it’s just a 10 minute extra walk a day.
Getting away from social media and digital devices improves your mental health
You might be thinking of packing your iPad and your laptop and a massive powerbank but the truth is, you don’t need them, and you should leave them behind. Have your phone available for emergencies, and you can charge it from the car (or I’ll allow a powerbank if you’re not driving), but keep it hands off. Research is starting to prove that too much technology can lead to anxiety and poor sleep, that screen time before bad is bad for you and that social media leads to insanity (okay that last one might not be research based but I’m pretty confident it’s true).
Spending quality time focused on your loved ones improves your mental health
We all love our families but in today’s busy world how much of our attention and time is split between work, technology, friends, family, stress, worries and fears. It’s all wedged into a single day and when I really stepped back and looked at the one on one quality attention I gave my husband and son, I realized my mind was often elsewhere. This couples well with getting away from social media and digital devices, but camping is also a fairly distraction free break away. No TV, no maid service, no staff to interact with, no restaurants or shops (or just a little one, if so). It’s you, your family and nature and that really allows you to focus. This will let your mind reset which is sorely needed when we’re feeling low.
So really make your camping trip about each other.
Enjoying a natural light sleep cycle improves your mental health
Going to bed when it gets dark and waking up when it’s light may be impractical on a daily basis for most of us. We have to attune our bodies to our alarm clocks – set to the schedule of work and school. Night time after the kids have gone to bed can be precious moments for parents to spend together, so going to bed at the same time isn’t something you want to do on a daily basis. But for just a break away on a camping trip, try sleeping when it gets dark and waking up at dawn. Along with spending time outside during the day in natural sunlight rather than at home or at the office, your circadian cycle will be working as natural intended. This will result in a better quality of sleep, even if you sleep for less duration. Sleep is one of the cornerstones of good mental health, and unfortunately also one that’s famously lacking for parents, compounding the problem massively for those suffering for postnatal mental health issues.
And don’t be tempted to check those emails after the sun has set and you’re about to sleep in the tent, because blue light from electronics 60 minutes before sleep can affect the quality of sleep you get!
So yes, camping really is good for your mental health
So even if you’re not the type of person who usually heads to a campsite, consider it as an option if you’re struggling with your mental health. You don’t need to have been diagnosed with a mental health problem, you might simply be feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious and feel like you need a few days of time to focus on yourself and your family before wading back into daily life. Camping can be fun and exciting, good for your physical health as well as mental and can be a real journey and adventure, filled with new skills. It’s also very budget friendly – if camping at convenience filled campsites in warm weather, you’ll need to spend a little on your starting equipment, but this will last many years and a single weekend pitch is very inexpensive. I always thought I would find camping stressful, as I’m not really a hands-on adventure kind of gal. I’m more of a five star spa and Egyptian cotton sheets person in all honesty, but there’s something raw about camping that strips away the grind of daily life and puts you back in touch with the world around us. Well worth sacrificing a bit of comfort for.