There is something magical to me about being outside on long summer nights, watching the stars come out under a canopy of tall trees, and waking up to the smell of coffee in the cool mornings. Summers to me have always meant camping, backpacking, and enjoying the outdoors with friends and family.
Whether it’s a short-day hike to the regional parks in my neighborhood, or a week-long backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada’s, I find the outdoors to be healing and restorative to my physical and mental health.
Adults and children spend a lot of time with screens. According to my cell phone’s “Screen Time” app, I spent on average 3 hours a day last week using my cell phone. Sometimes we can’t get away from it – we use our computers for work, or the television is part of our evening routine. Still, summer offers us an opportunity to get out of our routines and try something new.
A 2012 study found that adult hikers who spent at least three nights outside without access to cell phones and technology had increased cognitive performance, creativity, and problem-solving. I think this can be explained in part by our distracting lives. Our phones are ringing and buzzing with texts and emails, and our calendars are full to the brim of activities and events.
When we finally get a chance to set this aside, we start to notice our surroundings – the sights, smells, and sounds. It makes sense that we would be more creative, better problem-solvers, and enjoy better mental health.
We may not be able to go on a four-day backpacking trip every time we’re feeling overwhelmed, but there are other ways we can enjoy the benefits of nature this summer.
How can we get off our screens and get outside this month?
- Take advantage of long summer evenings and go for a walk after dinner. If possible, leave your cell phone at home.
- Plan a weekend camping trip at the local East Bay Regional Parks. Compared to the larger state parks, you can often get reservations without having to plan months in advance.
- Take a day trip to the beach! Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda, Keller Cove in Richmond, or the Santa Cruz beaches are all great choices.
How is your family enjoying the outdoors this month?
Rebecca Li, LCSW