Mental health for moms: How the outdoors can support your mental health
If there is one silver lining to come out of this difficult time to be a parent, it’s that we have learned the importance of talking about our mental health. Personally, I deal with anxiety, and during the past two years of pandemic parenting, my anxiety (like millions of others’) has heightened. For me, it doesn’t necessary feel like worry, but a pounding to-do list screaming in my head…..
Clean the dishes!
Answer that e-mail!
No wait, go back to the dishes!
But you’re behind on e-mails!
The kids! Be more present as a mom!
When was the last time you changed the sheets?
What’s for dinner? You forgot to defrost the chicken!
Why is there just one mitten here? Why can’t you keep gear better organized?
You need to eat healthy! Keep the kids safe! Clean the house! Get some work done!
The to-do list screaming in my head slows down when we step outside. I don’t see the piles of dirty laundry guilting me. I don’t worry as much about what we “should” be doing, and get the time to enjoy my family a little more.
It’s well documented that nature is good for our mental health. Nature improves attention, reduces stress, increases happiness, and even makes us nicer people, according to the American Psychological Association.
But mental health is complicated and sometimes, just getting outside isn’t enough to support our mental health. With the stressors of the pandemic, parenting, work, and life in general, many parents are feeling overwhelmed. And we may find ourselves wondering, “If I make time to get outside regularly, why doesn’t it seem to be helping my stress levels?”
When outside time isn’t cutting it alone as mental health support, here are questions I ask myself.
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Am I doing what I love?
Let’s be honest. Fresh air and sunshine feels good, sure. But sitting on the sideline of your kids’ soccer practice probably isn’t going to cut it for mental health support.
As parents, we are constantly being reminded how important self-care is. But for many of us (especially during a pandemic), getting a little mom-time on the calendar can be near impossible.
Although if it’s not impossible, be sure to check out our post on Getting Over Mom-Guilt and Taking a Wilderness Mom-cation.
If it’s not in the works to get out and do a mom-only hike at the moment, here are some questions to ask yourself so that outdoor time can support your mental health.
If you’re always doing what the kids want to, it might be hurting your mental health.
If I let my children choose, 99 times out 100, they would ask to go to the playground. And as much as I love taking them to the playground and letting them play and explore, I start to get bored after a few minutes. I find myself gravitating to my phone while they play and end up in the same social media soul sucking trap I would if we were hanging out indoors.
Can I make time for what I love to do too?
While time outdoors is always time well spent, hanging out at soccer practice or on a playground bench doesn’t usually support my mental health the way that getting out into nature does. But that doesn’t mean my kids are always up for a five mile hike, or a morning spent birdwatching with me.
I’ve found it helps to be straight with my kids: “I’m going to be a better a mom today if we get out in nature, so we are going on a hike.” Sometimes, it involves compromise: “We are going to go do a hike, but you can pick a playground to stop by on the way home time.”
Am I getting my heart rate up, and making time to laugh?
Exercise helps support our mental health, but hiking at a toddler’s pace doesn’t always get our blood pumping. I love spending time playing with my kids outside, but I don’t always get the stress-relieving benefits unless I manage to squeeze in some exercise too.
Whether you run, walk, ski, or even do some yoga while the kids play, making time to exercise yourself is key to getting all the mental health benefits you can from outside time. But not all exercise has to be a formal workout – joining in on a game of tag or pumping your legs on the swing beside them can help get your heart rate and release those good hormones too.
And when you’re running around with your kids, it won’t be long before you’re laughing with them too. Laughter relieves stress and boosts our mental health (and not just ours as parents, but our kids’ mental health too).
If you’re looking for ways to laugh with your family, try clamming up a game of tag or monkey in the middle. Even if you have to fake it till you make it, playing with your kids is time you won’t regret.
I’m going to be honest – working out can be a struggle for me. There are days I workout in my pajamas, because I know there’s just no way I’m going to change into workout clothes and back into real clothes.
But other days, a nice piece of workout gear motivates me to get up and get moving. I like this simple shirt from lululemon, because I can wear it all day long, working out, walking to school, or lounging on the couch.
Am I connecting with other adults?
Socializing is important for your mental health.
Socializing, especially for parents, has been more difficult than ever over the past few years. But while indoor playdates and coffee dates have been hard, the good news is that the outdoors remain safe.
When I was a new mom, with two little ones, I started a Hike it Baby chapter in my hometown. At that point in motherhood, I didn’t have a single friend to invite to join me. Every time someone showed up to one of our hikes, I was so desperate for some human connection I talked their ear off and they never returned. Eventually, the weather grew warmer and people started coming regularly.
I learned that not only was going outside essential for my mental health, but connecting with other moms was too. And as a bonus, playdates went far better outside. My kids were less likely to beg to go home when they were playing with friends, and when we were outside, there were no toys to fight over.
For more tips on how to socialize outside during the winter, check out this blog post on Socially Distanced Outside Winter Activities.
Let’s make sure we take care of others.
For some people, especially women and people of color who face discrimination and even violence while recreating outside, the great outdoors is not always the stress relieving haven it should be. As we look to build community outdoors, it’s necessary to make sure all people, regardless of their skin color, can enjoy the outdoors safely. Be sure to check out this article on How to be an Ally in the Outdoors to ensure everyone can use the outdoors to benefit their mental health.
Is comparing myself to other outdoor moms hurting my mental health?
We can’t assume the Insta life is the real life.
That mom spends way more time outside than me.
Her kids have better quality gear.
Wow, they get their 3 year old to bike? My seven year old gets tired after one trip around the block.
My kids are always begging to go inside and play on their Switch. Am I doing something wrong?
Her photos are always SO pretty.
I am terrified of camping.
The comparison trap is hard enough for moms, and I’m guilty of spending way too much time wondering if I’m ‘good enough’ as a mom. Especially when I see all the amazing things moms are doing on Instagram. I’m guilty of it too – I share the cute picture of my daughter on her skis, and not the tantrum that followed immediately after.
I’ll be honest – I might write about the importance of spending time outside as a family, but at the moment all three of my kids are on tablets while I write this post. They’re all sitting right beside each other for some reason, and it’s very loud in here.
Remember, we can’t do all the things
Downhill skiing, biking, hiking, horse back riding, camping, Nordic skiing, RVing, homeschooling, swimming, birdwatching, hunting, racing, rollerblading, scouting, snowboarding, skate skiing, sledding, rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, backpacking, soccer, baseball, ice skating, running. The list of things that we could expose our kids to, and hope they fall in love with, could stretch a mile long. (And that’s not even to mention all the very worth while indoor pursuits, like music lessons, art lessons, reading and dancing!)
As much as we might want to, we just can’t give our kid every opportunity. And there’s some comfort in that if we can release ourselves of the pressures of modern parenting. We can pick a few things we love to do, and share that joy with our kids.
How can I give myself more support?
It would be great if self-care was candy and bubble baths, but ultimately it looks more like the care we give our kids. That is, making sure we eat healthy, get good sleep, drink water, and have our emotional needs supported. If you’re finding that a face mask and an episode of Emily in Paris after the kids go to bed isn’t the stress relief you were hoping, it might help to dig deeper into what your actual needs are and how you can support them.
When my daughter was young, I spent many hours walking while she napped in her stroller. It was a time of transition for our family, having a new baby, and my older kids were struggling as one would expect. During those walks, I listened to books and podcasts that supported us in that growing period.
Some of my favorite included:
- Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham
- Hand in Hand Parenting Podcast (I always felt like a better mom just by listening to this one!)
- Sarah Rosensweet The Peaceful Parenting Podcast
There are also many meditation apps, some of which offer walking meditations too. Our family’s favorite is the Calm app (mostly for the children’s sleep stories). It can be hard to find some peace and quiet to meditate as a mom, but stroller walks can be one way to squeeze it in.
Would professional support benefit me?
The first (and only) time I took my son snowboarding, we splurged on a lesson. If I hadn’t. they would’ve had to take us off the mountain on stretchers.
Likewise, I can’t always manage my mental health myself and have talked to therapists in the past. I hope these DIY tips on our blog help, but sometimes we all need periodic support from the real deal. Talk to your doctor, or use an app like Better Help to get started.
If you work in the agriculture field, be sure to check out this resource from Montana State University for resources to help farmers and families with their stress and mental health.
Active Gear Guide for Outdoor Moms
If you’re looking to get outside and get moving more, here are a few of our favorite pieces of gear from Lululemon that can help support you on your mental health journey.
- Love Long Sleeve Shirt – Putting on soft shirt that doesn’t have spit up on it can honestly do wonders for my mental health. Lululemon’s love shirt is a great, all-purpose shirt.
- Invigorate Tight – Like I said, some days I do yoga in my pajamas if that’s the only way I’ll do it. Other days, a pair of high quality tights can help you really get it in the mood to work out.
- Define Jacket – Our Tales of a Mountain Mama Team loves this jacket. It stretches, keeps the chills off of you, and has plenty of pockets for all of your mom-gear.
- Waterside Relaxed UV Protection Long Sleeve – Moms have enough to worry about without worrying about the sun too. UV protection is essential, and a long sleeve shirt is way easier than wondering if you need to reapply sunscreen.
- Swiftly Tech Long Sleeve 2.0 – Never ending laundry might be one of the biggest drains on my mental health. Silverescent™ technology, powered by X-STATIC® helps prevent odor-causing bacteria. Which means no guilt when you dig the shirt back out of the laundry pile to wear two days in a row.
- Scuba Full-Zip Hoodie – There’s nothing as comforting as a hoodie, and the wide option of colors means you can find something to brighten your spirits.
- The Hot/Cold Bottle – When we get busy, it can be hard to remember to drink water. But when I get dehydrated, I get grumpy. This cute bottle is perfect for water or a hot cup of herbal tea when you head out for a walk.
- Women’s Fast and Free running hat – Do you ever just feel drained after day outside with your kids? Being in the sun can be invigorating, but it can also really zap your energy. Protecting your eyes is important, and this lightweight hat can help.
- Double roller mini – Taking care of our bodies doesn’t just mean working out. These rollers are perfect for working out tension at the end of a long day.
Mental health for moms
Getting outside can work wonders for our mental health. But if it’s not working for you, a few tweaks to your routine might help you get the most out of your outdoor time. Make sure you’re taking time to do what you love, avoiding the comparison trap, and giving yourself the best support you can.
- Six Powerful Reasons Why Nature is Good for You
- Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude
- 7 Tips to Help Busy Moms take a Sanity Break
Questions every Outdoor Mom needs to ask themselves about their mental health
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