Parks and recreational activity: Therapeutic options in California's wilderness
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When it comes to maintaining mental wellness or leading a sober lifestyle, there are many daily activities or experiences that influence this process of self-management. The scientific exploration into what various factors contribute to our overall health has grown in the course of previous decades. Many have been identified, but only one exemplifies the specific therapeutic resources the state of California has to offer: outdoor recreation. For residents and visitors alike, alternative treatment strategies such as exploring the wilderness or adventure therapy have been shown to make a difference in people’s lives. In addition, many sources of nature are located all over the West Coast and the possibilities are endless.

Mental health

Mental disorders afflict the lives of about one in five Americans each year and the overlying stigma that these illnesses are milder than physical diseases is gradually disappearing. Due to their strong association with hospitalization and disability, the lack of treatment and support for psychological impairments drops a substantial burden on the health care field. Overall, these disorders cost the United States approximately $148 billion every year. According to a report from the official State of California Resources Agency and its California Outdoor Recreation Planning Program, recreation and other physical activity have been linked to a number of mental health benefits.

For matters dealing with depression and anxiety, the act of leaving the house and dissolving isolated barriers in order to visit the wilderness can help reduce symptoms. Recreation and leisure are both commonly explored with other people and the release of particular chemicals and hormones during physical exercise are designed to provide a natural sense of relief. The government report details a number of past research findings related to successful active and outdoor strategies, including a 1994 observation of how remembering parks and recreation activities led to a more positive mood in study participants. This emotional change was related to increased self-esteem, decreased depression and fewer suicides as well.

In addition, a 2003 analysis found that the chance of developing depression was smaller if a person had an adequate social network size, level of physical activity and degree of interaction with others during outdoor activities. Researchers of the same study went on to document that the sample group of 186 nature recreationists felt a noticeable relief of anxious symptoms at the park in comparison to being at home. In addition, the lessened stress was proportional to the length of time a person remained in a natural environment.

In general, a consistent element of physical activity within the context of recreation can help prevent many mental health disorders. The effort and discipline involved with a strong regimen enables people to cope more effectively in the challenges they face. The State of California Resources Agency recommends at least 30 to 60 minutes of regular, moderate exercise through recreational activities and other specialized programs.


In the case of trauma, an intensely distressing experience can result in a prolonged reaction that will eventually alter a person’s neural connections if left unchecked. Once the chemistry of the brain has been rewired or distorted in a maladaptive manner, it can then lead to the adoption of risky behaviors or associated issues that contribute to an early death.

A natural, outdoor setting is the ideal environment for coaching a person’s trauma-related performance. It can especially set the stage for in vivo exposure therapy, where a therapist guides a client through progressively stressful stimuli in order to confront and dilute the person’s traumatic experience. This gradual exposure and performance coaching comprise distinct areas of adventure therapy (AT), which utilizes natural surroundings and kinesthetic action to engage its clients. This effect is supported by a 2012 study of 1,135 youth administered with AT or traditional therapy. Compared to traditional counseling, those who underwent AT sessions had the largest decreases in their condition’s severity, especially when it was supplemented with existing treatments.

Visiting local state parks

In addition to this range of benefits, the exposure to green leaves, open air and other natural elements can lead to a long list of physical health benefits and even a greater satisfaction with life. With such a strong association with positive influences, it is strange to realize how underfunded many of California’s national and state parks are. In fact, the budget to efficiently run a national park has been reduced by almost 8 percent, which converts to $190 million in addition to the daily operational costs that add up to more than a half-billion dollars each year. In addition to donating to a local park or parks and recreation association, a person can visit any of the prominent plots of land in the Golden State to support the need for recreational spaces:

  • Sequoia National Forest: Directly North of Los Angeles and known for its tall, towering trees.
  • Yosemite National Park: Directly East of San Francisco and has a unique combination of redwood trees, river rafting and the renowned glacier point.
  • San Bernardino National Forest: Inland from the Orange County area, this undeveloped region features Big Bear Mountain, one of the state’s most popular skiing and snowboard destinations.

Sovereign Health of California has locations across the state as well. Each facility is equipped with the necessary staff and strategies to confront any problems concerning wellness in the world today. If you, a friend or family member suffers from disorders like depression, anxiety or a traumatic event, please contact Sovereign’s admissions helpline as soon as possible for the required resources for recovery. Call (866) 819-0427 or chat online to speak with a consultant anytime.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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