Outside is Better

Winter Journal, 2019

Have circumstances in your life ever made you feel depressed or anxious? Maybe work is wearing you down, or your bills are stacking up. Maybe you’re worried about the way you look, or an upcoming assignment. If you’ve felt this way, you’re not alone. In fact, around 20% of New Zealanders have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety disorders, and prevalence is similar in Australia. That’s not to say that feeling stressed out by work is cause for a diagnosis of depression – the point is that every person feels the strains and tests of day to day life, and it’s important that we have the tools to cope.

It’s a no brainer that being outside is good for us. We all feel better after a bit of fresh air and some sunshine – it doesn’t take a scientist to work that out. But the science does exist. Stanford University carried out a study in 2015 that assessed the neural activity of two groups; one spent 90 minutes walking in a non-congested rural area each day; the other spent the same time walking through an urban environment. Unsurprisingly, the first group reported anecdotal improvements in their mood, but on top of that, the researchers at Stanford found that the area of the brain linked with mental illness saw a drop in activity.

So if science has proved that being outside is better for us, how can we maximise the positive effects? Ben Logan is the founder of Logan Lore, a bushcraft and survival school based in Wanaka, New Zealand. Ben works with people who lead busy, highly strung lives to alleviate some of their stress through raw experiences in the outdoors. He reckons that having a relationship with nature is an integral part of our survival.

“For me time spent outside is just part of being alive. We’re so deprived of opportunities to tap into our primal selves in the modern world that it’s vital that we create those opportunities for ourselves. Any time in nature is going to have a positive impact on us, but the more raw those experiences can be, the more noticable the benefits.”

Part of Ben’s personal approach to nature therapy is having a relationship with the cold – specifically cold water. His first experience with cold water immersion was in Lake Wanaka in 2016.

“A mate and I had done a lot of reading about the health benefits of cold water, but I’ve always been someone who learns by doing – so we went for it. Ever since my first cold water swim, I’ve made a conscious effort to build it into my routine. For me, you can’t really separate physical and mental wellbeing. One always informs the other. Cold water ticks both boxes. It gives me a mental sharpness and clarity like nothing else, and there are numerous proven physiological benefits.”

“Swimming in an icy lake might seem a bit extreme for some people, and that’s OK. The objective should be to find things that arrest feelings of anxiety or depression, and make them part of your day to day life. Maintaining a healthy mind is no different to maintaining a healthy body – it requires regular and deliberate work.”

To learn more about Logan Lore, visit www.loganlore.co.nz.

If you or someone you know is struggling, visit www.lifeline.org.nz or www.lifeline.com.au