How the Great Outdoors Can Boost Your Recovery

Nestled on a 43-acre campus in the Rocky Mountains just outside of Estes Park, Colorado, Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers in the world. Throughout its history, Harmony has been able to utilize its proximity to nature in the healing process.

“Outdoor therapy for people in addiction recovery is the idea that spending time in the outdoors can offer the benefit of a new outlet for self-discovery,” Roy DuPrez, founder of Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Recovery, recently wrote on Addiction Professional. “If a person is suffering from addiction, outdoor therapy is another tool on the path to recovery. Although spending time outdoors won’t cure a substance use disorder on its own, making the effort to spend more time in nature offers some important benefits for people in recovery.”

Connecting with nature is a powerful weapon in the battle against addiction. In his 2018 book, Lost Connections, British writer and journalist Johann Hari argues that depression and anxiety—important comorbidities for substance use disorder (SUD)—are primarily driven by nine disconnections, including being disconnected from other people, meaningful values, and from the natural world. It follows that if people with depression, anxiety, and/or addiction re-connect with people and the natural world, their chance of healing improves.

DuPrez agrees. “Recovery requires a multifaceted approach focusing on a person’s mental, physical, and emotional health. By spending time in the outdoors, holistic benefits include: reduced depression, improved physical fitness, better sleep, enhanced cognitive function, opportunities to build relationships, and decreased risk of relapse.”

When people are surrounded by a natural environment they process stress differently, making the task more manageable. Being in nature shields people from the many over-stimulating, anxiety-inducing situations in our busy modern world.

“Combating boredom is another major issue for individuals in recovery and is a common cause of relapse. Boredom can be combated by starting a new outdoor hobby. Skiing, mountain biking, hiking, fishing, and photography are all great ways to get outside. Once a person has begun getting out in nature, they will begin feeling less anxious and less stressed. Stress reduction is part of the outdoor experience.”

A major reason for that stress reduction is the spiritual dimension of the great outdoors. Wilderness is able to teach people a healthy sense of humility while intuitively affirming their place in the universe. Connecting with nature is “a great conduit to giving up the notion of being in charge,” says Harmony’s spiritual advisor, Bill Myers. “You’re humbled by nature, and it’s true humility through connection, rather than separateness through humiliation. Most people with addiction have plenty of experience with humiliation but not true humility. It is a release of the ego that is not a diminishment, not an absence but a connection to something.”

Myers likes to investigate with his clients how we are connected to powers beyond ourselves. “It helps us understand our rightful place in the world,” he says. “Instead of thinking ‘I’m in charge of my life, and I’m charging ahead doing all these things,’ we get to see how we are connected.”

Harmony Foundation is a dual-diagnosis-capable facility serving patients with SUD and co-occurring mental health disorders. Clients who are diagnosed with mental health issues—such as anxiety, depression, and other trauma-related responses—will meet with our mental health and medical staff to address medication management. We work with our clients to teach them healthy coping skills to help them manage their co-occurring issues.

Despite difficult circumstances, Harmony continues to serve patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are taking extra precautions to ensure staff and client safety. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction do not delay seeking treatment. If you have questions about our programs, call us at 970.432.8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible.