Camping has been established over several decades as a therapeutic activity offering a wide variety of ways to get fresh air, unplug from city life and get some exercise – all while enjoying nature. But did you know that it can also be very good for your overall mental health?
Even just a couple of days spent camping can leave people feeling rejuvenated both physically and mentally. In this post, we’ll discuss some of the positive effects camping trips can have on mental health, along with the how and why. We’ll also briefly discuss some of the most common camping styles, and a few ways you can maximize the healing potential of your time out in nature.
Camping's Direct Effects Mental Health
Camping is one of the oldest, most cost-effective ways to reset both mentally and physically. Some of the most significant benefits of camping for mental health include:
Minimize Risk of Anxiety and Depression
Conditions like anxiety or depression aren’t limited to specific age groups, genders, or income brackets. Eric Van Buskirk of Healthy Minded says “anxiety related disorders are among the most common types of mental illness in America today; this includes conditions like general anxiety disorder (GAD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) which can result in panic attacks.” However, when you’re out in nature and away from the bustle of everyday life, it can be easier to destress and unwind. The fresh air and peaceful surroundings that go hand-in-hand with camping work together to help you clear your mind and relax.
The reason that simply being in nature can have such a therapeutic effect is largely due to the phytoncides that trees release. These are oils that contain terpenes like α-pinene and β-pinene, which have well-documented anxiolytic properties. Simply inhaling these oils have been shown to have immediate effects on a camper’s mental state.
In 2010, a field experiment published in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine showed that “forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.” Researchers found that overexposure to synthetic materials and technology contribute to increased anxiety and depression. The experiment showed that these negative effects can be mitigated by simply being exposed to trees and nature, which come naturally with any camping trip.
Improve Energy Levels and Focus
Camping is a great way to re-energize due to the naturally restorative properties of plants out in nature. Limonene is a terpene shown to have a positive effect on energy levels and focus that campers are frequently exposed to, due to its abundance in common forms of plant life including lemongrass, citrus and pine trees.
Camping is also a great way to reset your biological clock and readjust your circadian rhythms. A 2013 study in Current Biology showed the natural synchronization with the day-night cycle that occurs when camping caused subjects to fall asleep and wake earlier than usual due to the limited exposure to unnatural light. This positively affected their energy levels in the days following the study.
Increase Physical Activity
An uptick in physical activity comes naturally with camping because we’re more prone to explore our surroundings, which usually entails a good deal of walking and climbing. Physical activity is an often underestimated tool for boosting mental health.
A cross-sectional study done by The Lancet found that physical activity and exercise can cause people to experience up to 1.5 fewer days a month in a poor mental state when compared to inactive people. This is because exercise causes the body to release neurotransmitters called endorphins which are the body’s “feel good” hormone.
Reconnect With Nature
Spending time in nature can help you feel more connected to the world around you. Seeing the beauty of the natural world can remind you of the bigger picture and help keep your life and problems in perspective. When you’re disconnected from nature, it can be easy for individuals to feel isolated and alone, or be overwhelmed by some of the problems they currently face in life.
Improve Your Mood
Being in nature has been shown to improve mood and contribute to a general feeling of wellness. Camping can also be a great way to socialize and connect with others while making memories you can look back on long after your trip.
Common Camping Styles
There are many different ways to enjoy the great outdoors, but there are three camping styles that are best known to campers of all experience levels around the world. Let’s go over what they are and some of their respective pros and cons.
Tent Camping is probably the first type of camping that comes to mind for most people. It’s reasonably versatile, but adds a considerable amount of weight to your gear.
Hammock Camping is a newer iteration of camping that’s grown in popularity because of how much easier it is to find a site for. It requires less gear and the hammock is quick to assemble, but falls short in terms of sleeping comfort and weatherproofing ability.
RV Camping is most popular among families and the elderly. Though RV camping allows for practically all the comforts of home, ideal campsites are harder to find or get to safely when compared to the previous two camping styles.
Regardless of the style of camping you prefer, the activity itself offers a significant range of therapeutic benefits. Whether you want to take the opportunity to mentally reset on your own or go camping with a group, it’s definitely worth considering the next time you can get away!