TRIGGER WARNING ♥ Cozy Blankets and Coffee Needed ♥ (This content deals with sexual assault, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD).
I died Christmas of 2013.
Broken like a shattered mirror.
I stayed in bed for days, barely able to move from the whiplash.
To get myself to the washroom, I cradled my neck in my hands and rolled myself off the bed. Shocked by my reflection in the bathroom mirror, I paused. It was blurred and distorted from a rush of tears and showed my neck stuck in an angular, low-hanging position. As if my body was mirroring how I felt on the inside – crippled.
I died that night.
No longer bubbly, light, and care-free, I reverted to an unrecognizable dark and heavy state – my child-like spirit abused and spit out.
I fell violently beneath the surface from where I had been living with my friends, goals and career like free-falling down a flight of rickety stairs into a dark, scary basement.
I landed with a hard thud.
Paralyzed on a cold, concrete floor, left alone, damaged and fragmented from physical intrusion. But even when alone, I couldn’t bear to say the words:
I had been raped.
An Unexpected Natural Cure for Depression and PTSD
During the following months, it was a struggle to get out of bed –a battle to stay alive. In the dark, engulfed by waves of depression and PTSD symptoms, it was difficult to see a way out –difficult to see any signs of light.
I don’t know if my friend, Jill, knew of nature’s healing powers, but she must’ve sensed it would do some good, as she nudged me for weeks to join on her daily hikes.
One day I agreed.
And the following day I agreed again, and the day after that, until I was hiking with her every morning. Sometime after, I recognized a transformation: a shifting of energy from within.
It was a day like any other. My eyes focused on the mossy trail, twisting up ahead. I listened to my breath: heavy and rapid, overpowering the softness of the earth crunching beneath my feet. It was a crisp March morning. The ground still dampened from an earlier downpour of rain. I paused to sip my coffee when I noticed I was smiling.
This was a smile I hadn’t felt in a long while.
It was soft and radiated from a place of peace.
What was this feeling? Where had it come from? My gaze was drawn upward to the tips of the towering trees, where I found myself admiring their majestic beauty. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by a wave of warmth. I could feel love rushing inwards and filling up the hollow hole inside me.
I felt full –alive.
Resisting the urge to run and hug the tree, I pressed my hand against its rugged body, instead, and let myself feel gratitude for the trees and the earth beneath my feet. I could feel nature’s healing power coursing through my body like a natural cure for my depression and loneliness.
For the first time, I finally understood the love a tree-hugger might feel. They must feel this same connectedness that I had experienced. There is something indescribable, something that appears outrageous and laughable until you, yourself, feel it.
Nature’s Power to Heal the Body, Mind, and Soul
Later that day, I began reading about this phenomenon. I wondered if others had this extraordinary experience and if there was research to support it.
And I’m happy to report a big, fat YES! It’s true!
Time spent in nature can heal your body, mind, and soul! The benefits are substantial, some of which include improving blood pressure, fighting inflammation, strengthening the immune system, and increasing energy and vitality.
Even more, there have been numerous studies and reports written, such as The Role of Therapeutic Landscape in Improving Mental Health of People with PTSD, that support nature’s ability to cure depression and PTSD symptoms naturally.
In fact, studies have also been looking at veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And there is a growing amount of evidence to support nature’s ability to reduce trauma symptoms. There is no reason why this wouldn’t also help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to sexual abuse trauma.
Now before I show you how nature brought me back to life, I need you to know that this wasn’t some overnight, miracle cure. Even six years later, I still have bouts of depression and waves of PTSD symptoms, and I take medication for it.
But I carry this memory as a reminder that I can always find comfort and healing outside in nature.
5 Ways Nature Brought Me Back to Life: a Natural Cure for Depression
1. It Reduced My Stress Hormones
Looking back over those months walking with Jill, it’s easy to see the transformation. My jumpiness lessened, my shoulders relaxed, and my quickened heartbeat softened. I link these changes to a drop in cortisol levels. Studies have shown that people with depression and anxiety have higher levels of stress hormones. According to Scientific Reports, “as early as 1962, it was reported that patients diagnosed with depression hyper-secreted cortisol …and chronic stress leads to increased secretion of cortisol and results in depression.”
As a result, one must decrease their stress hormones to combat depression and PTSD effectively.
I experienced a reduction in stress hormones, outside, on the trails, surrounded by trees. In fact, a study conducted by Science Daily revealed that just twenty minutes in nature had the power to drop cortisol levels drastically. And the most significant rate of return was a minimum of thirty minutes walking or sitting in nature.
2. It Improved My Sleep
Before my walks with Jill, I was awake each night from 2 am until 5 am.
I couldn’t sleep!
My sleep still isn’t perfect, but I do find it’s better when I spend time outside. As expected, there is a link between poor sleep and mental health problems, specifically, depression and PTSD. Even more, Harvard Health Publishing states, “traditionally, clinicians treating patients with psychiatric disorders have viewed insomnia and other sleep disorders as symptoms.
But studies in both adults and children suggest that sleep problems may raise the risk for, and even directly contribute to, the development of some psychiatric disorders.” In other words, improving the quality of your sleep can help heal your depression and PTSD.
3. It Provided a Powerful Antidepressant
Looking back, I equate my time spent in nature to taking an antidepressant pill! In essence, the calming effect of nature levels out the serotonin levels in your body. According to Deane Alban at Be Brain Fit, “physical exercise regulates the same neurotransmitters targeted by prescription antidepressants… and can replenish your valuable stores of mood-boosting vitamin D.”
Moreover, you don’t have to walk alone. I benefited from nature’s calming effects with Jill. So, feel free to gather a group of friends, because a “2014 study found that group nature walks were just as effective as solo treks in terms of lowering depression and stress and improving overall mental outlook,” says Harvard Health Publishing.
4. Nature Made Me Feel Alive
I felt dead inside before that day! And I know I’m not alone with that feeling, for it’s common among people struggling with depression.
But, that trail provided a rush of powerful emotions.
For the first time, in a long time, I felt alive! Thankfully, “research has shown that people on wilderness excursions report feeling more alive and that just recalling outdoor experiences increases feelings of happiness and health,” says Science Daily. So, basically, you can even get away with remembering your outdoor experiences, that’s how powerful time spent in nature is!
5. Nature Boosted My Creativity
In time, I felt the urge to write. I wanted to explore my feelings, process my emotions, and release the pain through my words. And I thank nature for reconnecting me to my creativity –a healthy outlet to help heal my depression and PTSD.
For studies, such as Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings, show that time spent in nature can have a positive impact on creative functioning. In fact, Nature and Forest Therapy says, “a study of a group of Outward Bound participants found they performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking.”
And so, boosting creativity helps if you’re struggling with depression or PTSD. As it happens, thousands of therapists use creativity to help people with their mental health –dare I say, as a natural cure for depression.
Even more, “a study of almost 700 university students found better moods in the days the students practiced a creative activity,” says Harley Therapy.
To put it another way, boosting your creativity while in nature can later transfer into creative expression. For example, writing can help you process your emotions and painting can help you release painful feelings. There are so many forms of creativity, such as gardening, dancing, and sculpting.
Let nature unearth your creativity!
Nature is Your Healing Friend
The more I learn, the more I feel like nature is a healing friend – we have never been alone, and we never will be. I find this unbelievably comforting.
The trail brought me back to life.
And over time, nature continues to be a natural cure for my depression and PTSD symptoms. Whenever I am overwhelmed by darkness and pain, I know that I can find a source of healing comfort with my dear friend, Nature.
That day, when Jill and I reached the summit of Mount Wark, and the rustle of Victoria was gone — 230 meters below. I knew I would never forget. I felt at home —safe up there with the Douglas fir protecting and shielding me. Nature’s gifts of love, gratitude and calm stayed with me that day.
I couldn’t contain such powerful energies, they spilled from me, infecting all who crossed my path — receivers of kind gestures and friendly smiles. Since then, I’ve noticed this energy evaporates after long periods without nature and quickly returns when I do.
Nature gives so much to us.
If you’re grieving, suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I hope you’ll remember that you can always find a friend in nature.
Pick a place you find most beautiful. It could be the ocean, the forest, or a nearby park.
Nature’s power to heal us is not limited to the most exquisite beaches. You can meet her potent cures on a simple plot of grass. And if you want an extra boost, just remove your shoes and dig your toes into the earth, and you’ll benefit from the electron-rich charge it carries.
Here is a photo of one of my favourite spots.
Finally, always remember you are not alone.
If you ever find yourself struggling, please grab a cozy blanket, pour yourself a hot cup of coffee and join the Girl Talk and Coffee community! I promise always to meet you with compassion, comfort, and support.
P.S have you felt the healing power of nature? Share a photo of your favourite piece of nature in the comments below.
I’d love to hear your story.
Feature photo by Andrei Lazarev
Second photo by Artem Sapegin