If you’re following me on social media, you probably know that I’ve started a new challenge. Back in 2015, I signed up for David Suzuki’s call to action to get outside for 30 minutes a day for 30 days, known officially as the #30x30Challenge. I loved it so much that I decided to continue it in subsequent years. It had a profound impact on my mood and overall health. I haven’t done it for the past couple of years, however. I don’t have any good excuse for this other than I simply forgot. That’s it. Just plain forgot. Life has a way of getting away from us sometimes, doesn’t it?
I was recently reminded about this challenge thanks to my Facebook memories. I am so glad that I decided to document this because it inspired me to get back at it. This year, I want to document it through my blog, because #WriterLife. So, I will be writing about my journey throughout this challenge and sharing some pictures, research, insights, and humour along the way. I hope this will inspire you too and encourage you to join me and get outside. This year has been dubbed the One Nature Challenge. Check it out and sign up here.
Now, check out my first week!
Day 1: Happy hour
The first day of this challenge started with a bang. It was the sunniest and warmest day since the start of spring. I was invited to a Zoom video conference happy hour with my work colleagues to wrap up the workweek. Bonus points for getting to finish work an hour early for this. I decided to set up shop outside on my back porch. We talked and laughed for over an hour. My stress melted away. Literally. The sun was scorching that afternoon and I was basically attached to my wooden chair by the end of the call. Wearing shorts was simultaneously the best and worst idea I had that day. Oof!
Getting outside can be achieved easily with little tweaks like this. While I would normally engage in this kind of activity inside, I pushed myself to get out of the house because of the challenge. While it may not seem significant, getting outside has tremendous impacts on mental health. One such impact is getting more vitamin D, which is proving to be quite a helpful little nutrient. Studies have shown that vitamin D has positive impacts on cognitive function and dementia, depression, child and youth mental health, and executive functioning, among many other things. So, what are you waiting for?! Go soak up this free, all-natural, super vitamin while it’s hot! Pun totally intended.
Day 2 and 3: Gardening
I absolutely LOVE gardening. Growing food and flowers is therapeutic. It’s also pretty radical when you think about it. Being able to provide for oneself is a peaceful revolution against a system that would have us completely dependent on corporations. I must admit, it feels really good to resist this.
Gardening also packs a pretty powerful punch when it comes to our health. Benefits of gardening include:
- Getting more physical and mental exercise
- Better food habits
- Increased vitamin D
- Reduced symptoms of some mental illnesses
- Reduced stress
- Empowerment and self-sufficiency
- Connection to nature, others, and the self
- Resistance to the status quo
You don’t need to be a master gardener to engage in this practice. Believe me, I used to kill everything I touched. Start small with a low-maintenance house plant, like pothos, and some fresh herbs, like basil and chives. Be prepared to catch the gardening bug, though. There is no cure.
Day 4: Connecting
On the fourth day of the challenge, I had a get-to-know-you call with a new work colleague. You know that feeling when someone just gets you and the conversation flows effortlessly? That’s the feeling I had. We talked about food, gardening, parenting, politics, and writing. All in the span of 30 minutes! I have a feeling I’ve made a great new friend for life.
Connecting with others is so important to our mental health. It gives us a chance to vent, laugh, commiserate, share, learn, grow, and support one another. It reminds us that what we feel and experience is not unique; that we are not alone.
Check out this post from Mindwise that highlights some of the important health benefits of social connection, including improved quality of life, better mental health, longer life, and decreased risk of suicide.
Day 5: Quiet time alone (sort of)
Day five was a busy one. There were long intakes and a mountain of casework. I ended up blasting past the end of the workday by 20 minutes before I even realized it was over and was a bit frazzled, to say the least. I thought it would be nice to wrap up the day with some quiet contemplation in nature (aka my backyard). Or, at least that was my intention.
Picture me. I’m sitting in a chair on my back porch. The sun is dipping westward in the edge of the sky. Just check it out in the picture above. Beautiful right? The birds are chirping – at least seven different species can be heard. The trees are just starting to bud. There are signs of life everywhere. I look over to the right and take in the sunset for a moment and just listen. I take a deep breath. Then, I look over to the left and take in a perfect shot of my dog taking a dump while she dead-eye stared me down. LOL. Sigh… It’s not glamourous, but it’s real life.
My laughter got Roxy all excited. She ran up to see me and brought me a toy. We engaged in a game of tug and fetch. She had the zoomies and was darting all over the yard with absolutely no grace or spatial awareness. It was a total riot to watch. I was giggling with joy. So much for quiet contemplation. Another day, I suppose.
Did you know that dogs are good for our mental health? It’s true! I mean, at times I would argue there’s no way this can be true, like when I’m breaking up yet another fight between her and my cat or she’s destroyed yet another prized possession. But, overall, I can confirm that there are so many benefits to having a doggo in your life. Demonstrated benefits include:
- Reduced stress, anxiety, and depression
- Reduced loneliness
- Increased play
- More exercise
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Unconditional love
- Loads and loads of laughter
I mean, just look at that face!!!
Day 6: A picnic
This day was another beaut. My daughter and I decided to have lunch outside on the deck. I laid out a cozy quilt and made a makeshift table out of a cooler. I covered the cooler with a pretty throw. It wasn’t editorial-level, filtered, Instagram perfect, but it was lovely nonetheless.
After lunch, we laid back and let the sunshine bathe over us for a while. It was such a nice way to break up the day. Even better, it turns out there are benefits to eating outside, such as engaging in more mindful eating, which can help food taste even better, aid digestion, and help us to be more responsive to our bodies’ signals. Plus, a peaceful outdoor setting can lower stress. So, get cookin’! Outside, that is.
Day 7: Full circle
The week closed in much the same way that it began. The sun was high in the sky, albeit a bit cooler (much to the relief of my legs), the birds were chirping, and the gardens were growing.
I had my own personal happy hour on the back deck while looking over the dandelions in my yard. I leave them for the bees every year. Seems I finally got that quiet contemplation I was seeking and it was beautifully peaceful. My daughter then came outside and brought Roxy with her. We had a nice catch up chat about our days and engaged in some fun play with the doggo, complete with belly laughs. I managed to incorporate some of the best elements from my week without even trying.
Turns out, we don’t always have to think of the most creative and elaborate plans to get outside and enjoy it. Sometimes, we just need to get out there and let the rest take care of itself.
Call to action: Join me!
Thanks for following my journey this week. It means a lot to me. In honour of Mental Health Month, I invite you to join me. It’s never too late to start. No one said you HAVE to start on May 1. Just start and keep going for 30 days. Maybe you’ll enjoy it so much that you’ll want to keep going. Perhaps we’ll go into the winter feeling like we couldn’t have possibly enjoyed the outdoors anymore and that we didn’t waste a morsel of warmth and sunshine. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
If you want to join me, let me know in the comments section below and follow me on one or more of my social media accounts to tag me in your daily posts. I’ll support you with some love and encouragement! Accountability makes us more successful. I’d love to help you achieve your goals to get outside. Will you help me?
Be well, friends <3
Tina Cumby, MSW, RSW, is an independent writer and creator of free content for mental health professionals. She has been employed as a social worker for four years and has another year of case management and policy development experience. She works primarily with adults living at the intersections of poverty, disability, and trauma at all levels of practice (micro, mezzo, and macro). Tina is particularly well versed in social work case management and student supervision.