In recovery and sober living, finding your center and learning to ground yourself is a crucial facet of maintaining your sobriety. It’s the difference between letting your emotions dictate your coping skills and making good, healthy choices for your body, mind, and soul.
Can you truly say that you feel grounded all the time? Your answer is probably “no.” Even people who have never struggled with substances sometimes lose their center and get caught up in the daily drama of technology, work, and family struggles. It’s better to admit this than to try and push it down or otherwise ignore it; that’s what leads to self-medication.
Instead of turning to alcohol, drugs, or destructive behaviors, what you may be missing could be as close as just outside your door. Consider that nature is our main source of nourishment – it allows us to grow our food, get fresh water, bask in the sun, or even run through the fresh and invigorating rain. Humans have always been intrinsically tied to the natural world around us, and there’s at least one school of thought to suggest that we falter because we lose our connection with the Earth in the first place.
When the world around you seems too busy, too fast, and too highly pressured, take a deep, restoring breath. Then give one of these nature-oriented activities a try.
Quick Benefits: Better physical health, better sleep, less anxiety, and a reduction in depression.
Hiking remains one of America’s most popular pastimes. It’s by no means something specific to the recovery community, but many people in recovery do use it to temper negative emotions and increase physical endurance all the same. Whether you enjoy a long walk through a local park or something more challenging, like hiking up to the top of a small mountain, the hobby significantly benefits both your cardiovascular and mental health.
Hiking benefits everyone, but research shows that it could be especially beneficial for those who live in the city. One Stanford study showed that city slickers who escaped the hustle and bustle to spend just 90 minutes in the woods or forest “showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.”
How to Get Started: Hiking doesn’t need to be complicated. Focus on finding a safe area to walk that’s as far away from city sounds, smells, and sights as possible. Don’t have anything close? Head for the closest zoo or botanical gardens instead.
Quick Benefits: The same overall benefits as sitting or guided meditation (less anxiety, better self-regulation, and a higher tolerance for stress) with the added benefit of additional existential insight.
Nature meditation is a form of sitting or visualization meditation, so it carries many of the same benefits found in both practices. Countless research studies and centuries of anecdotal evidence proves that meditation has the ability to physically calm the mind and body. Psychology Today points out that regular meditation boosts the immune system, helping you heal, and can increase positive emotion during trying times. It may even improve social connection or help you to feel less lonely when going through treatment.
But nature meditation specifically seems to grant people special insight, likely because it encourages the meditator to meditate on the very nature of life itself – that’s existentialism. If you’re the type of person who continuously tries to find meaning in life or someone in recovery who is trying to find meaning in something other than substances, sitting and meditating on the life all around you in the forest can be extremely refreshing.
How to Get Started: Start by venturing out into your favorite spot – somewhere where you’ll be surrounded by the noises, scents, and sights of the Earth itself, while still maintaining safety. Sit cross-legged and breathe in to the count of four, hold for four, then release. Reflect on the age-old trees that stand duty, the grass that cushions your feet, and the flowers that make you smile, and use it as a reminder that you belong to the Earth, too.
Gardening & Plant Care
Making a difference is often one of the best ways to increase feelings of self-worth and belonging, and that’s something you can do quite easily for the natural world around you. Planting a garden or sowing “wild oats’ has sincere benefits for both nature and you.
Gardening and plant care, whether indoors or out, requires us to be selfless and think about another living thing in the process. If we forget to water our plants, they’ll wither, so we do the responsible thing and water them regularly. That’s an excellent way to increase feelings of patience, understanding, and compassion, even for ourselves.
In many ways, the recovering addict is like an improperly cared for plant; we want to flourish, and have the capability to do so, but we haven’t been given the proper input to reach that goal. As you care for your plants or outdoor garden, you’ll reflect on this and possibly come to realize how important it is to care for yourself, too.
How to Get Started: Guerilla wildflower planting is immensely fun and especially suitable for those of you that have a true rebel heart. Do a little digging to find out what wildflowers are most beneficial in your area (try milkweed; it attracts Monarch butterflies) and then find a big open field or even your yard. Toss the seeds down on top of the soil in early spring and come back the next summer to see them burst into bloom.
Tree Planting & Conservation Efforts
Quick Benefits: Service to others, appreciation for life, and a sense of accomplishment.
Service to others – be they human, animal or plant – is one of the most important tenets of recovery, especially in 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). By helping and serving others, we are reminded that everyone struggles, but deserves respect, patience, and support, too. If you often get caught up in selfish thoughts, or if you struggle with compassion and understanding (for yourself or others), getting involved in tree planting and/or other conservation efforts can help you ground yourself back to center.
This form of ecotherapy creates a sense of purpose and hopefulness, especially if you engage in it with others. Seeing how many people care about the Earth can be very empowering, softening hard feelings and inspiring the soul. It reminds us that all is not lost; there are still many people who care.
How to Get Started: If you have the time, get involved in tree planting and other large-scale conservation activities hosted by various environmental groups. Or, plant several rows of saplings on your property and foster them until they get their footing. Years later, you’ll come back and see full-grown trees while you reflect on how far you’ve come.
Just Listen & Relax
Quick Benefits: Easy, accessible, and suitable for anyone at any point in recovery. Encourages calmness and patience; acts as a safe, self-soothing behavior.
Okay, so what about when things get really hectic. You’re off-kilter; maybe you’re heading for a full-blown anxiety attack or just feel like you’re losing control.
Nature can help you recenter yourself in a situation like this, too; just take a few minutes to listen and relax to the sounds it provides. Of course, this works best if you can get out of the house and onto solid ground, too, but even just putting on a “sounds of nature” YouTube video can be helpful in a pinch.
Surprisingly, there’s a really interesting scientific reason why the sounds of nature help us relax. The brain interprets audio input like gentle wind, rain, and waves as non-threatening sounds. This is in direct contrast to say, a scream or the popping of a balloon, which is loud, sudden, and frightening for most people.
Scientists also believe that certain rhythmic sounds may also remind our brains of time spent warm and snug in the womb.
How to Get Started: The next time you find yourself panicking, overwhelmed, or even just unable to sleep, take a few deep breaths. Then, tune into a video like this one, curl up in your favorite chair, and close your eyes. Breathe slowly and deeply, filling your lungs at a comfortable pace close to the sounds you hear. Or, just head out on the lawn and lay on your back in the sun.