Depression & Nature’s Cure

Depression affects millions of us every day at different levels. Some people are able to function but at a dulled existence. Other people end up bed ridden, unable to function while some even feel that ending their lives are the only way to ease their pain. If you ever feel like part of this last sentence, please, please, please seek help. There is nothing wrong with getting help because it’s not all in your head, you’re not weak or stupid. Trust me.

My own lifelong fight with depression is not a secret and I’ve mentioned in several of my blog posts. And others in my family suffer from it too which lends me to believe it’s somewhat genetic. Though with millions of us suffering, maybe a lot is environmental. We’ve gone from being outdoors, to spending most of our time inside for work and after work. With so many ways to be in front of a screen, we’ve become more of an inside society. Me included. I’d much rather lounge on the couch binge-watching Netflix than go outside especially when the weather isn’t perfect. But therein I believe lies my issue. Too much inside.

I really hate the anti-depressants and I only have utilized them when in a severe depression. My goal is to find ways to keep from going ‘there’ where I’m so dark and despondent that I feel like I don’t want to live. Find my preventative medicine so to speak. I read most articles I see on depression and have read many books on it as well. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist but I think they are just crap-shooting what’s really going on with our brain. There are many studies out there and the one thing I think I have noticed in common is ‘nature’ as far as people feeling better.

They were pushing vigorous exercise as an alternative to anti-depressants. After my mom died in 2014, I rode my bike a lot. After about 20 minutes of riding after literally forcing myself into the gear and out the door, I’d feel like someone flipped the happy switch. I thought maybe it’s a runner’s high type of thing. So I went on the theory that vigorous exercise was the antidote. Late fall I joined the Y so I could continue the vigorous exercise, except it didn’t work. Didn’t matter how long or hard I rode the spin bike, the happy switch never flipped. I tried the treadmill, elliptical and rower going as long as an hour until I was completely drenched in sweat and nothing. Which of course just added to my depression because then I believed well maybe I have to do my vigorous activity outdoors and I just hate riding in the winter and cold.

But the thing I think was missing in this study was where the subjects did their exercise, indoors or out in nature? Japan has practiced ‘forest-bathing’ for years and done studies on spending time out in the woods to combat stress and depression. Other countries and academic institutions have also studied nature’s affects on our mood and depression. I could link up a bunch of studies but feel free to research yourself.

In late 2015, we moved into the country. I started walking the dog up and down the country roads where its more fields and woods than people. When I lived in town, I also walked the dog except it’s not really nature. A lot of concrete, homes, people and while there is grass and trees, I never felt much difference in my mood walking even five miles around town. However, I started to notice after walking the dog about twenty minutes, I’d feel the switch just a little less prominent which lends me to believe that vigorous exercise forces you to breathe in more air which might be why when I was riding, I felt the ‘switch’ stronger than when I’m walking. Maybe there is some microbe or something biological in the air when you’re in nature or the woods that your body needs and a lack of it, throws your brain chemistry off.

I believe exercise helps, exercise is super important no matter what. If you don’t keep moving, you die which is why Medicare and such are pushing seniors to work out and exercise. My theory, which I will test over this next winter, is that the antidote to my depression is nature, being outside at least twenty minutes most days and coupling it with exercise is a double whammy. Which means, I am going to have up my outdoor gear so I can do this on the most frigid Ohio -20 windchill days. I’m fortunate because I live on 1.5 acres surrounded by prairie and woods. I have a pine grove in the back corner of my lot where I can go stand or sit or walk circles around. I love the smell of the pines. Essentially, even if I can’t fathom walking the icy roads, I can walk around my yard to get my nature pill. Vitamin N.

This truly sounds a bit crazy but google it, you will find studies where they have looked at city dwellers and found the ones who live near more green spaces have less depression. Case in point, I haven’t been feeling the best so I hadn’t been outside much. To add to it, they spread turkey shit across the street after they harvested the soybeans. You literally can’t breathe that stuff just smells of death. Coupled with rain, I hadn’t been outside for several days and when I was at work, I noticed I was feeling depressed. So when I got home, I bundled up, grabbed doggo and headed out to walk for 35 minutes.

I left my headphones at home and focused on the surroundings. I walked west from my house pretty quickly as the frigid air was blowing against me but within a quarter of a mile, I can turn south and down into a more protected road. There is more woods on this road as well and the traffic is a bit lighter. The only aggravation on this route is the people on the corner let their two Rottweilers run free and they always come running out to us. They are mostly friendly but my dog goes batshit excited about ripping my arm off. I wish they would put them on a containment system because I’m afraid they will get hit.

Within 20 minutes of my walk, I felt my mood lift. Again, it’s not as dramatic as when I cycle but it does happen nonetheless. Once I got back to the house, I let the dog inside and walked the perimeter of my back yard. The sky was cloudy but the hue of the sunset was cast in the sky as a grayish pink. I stood behind my shop, underneath the pines and listened to the wind rushing through their branches. I felt all the anxiety just flow out of me and go with the wind. I know that sounds hokey but that’s really what it felt like.

After my walk, I picked up some dinner and watched some Netflix. I’m really into Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown where he travels to places like Libya. My sense of darkness, depression were alleviated for the most part and I enjoyed relaxing the rest of the night. I even slept well. Maybe I’m crazy but I’m going to try adding Vitamin N or nature to my regimen this winter, well, all year round, to see if it does indeed keep me from going into a deeper depression. I don’t figure outside of a chance for frostbite and getting hit, it can’t really hurt me to walk or hike this winter. Even maybe just wander around my own back yard on the days I can’t walk on the road or get to a park.

I am going to keep a notebook to jot notes in every day to help me study what helps and what doesn’t. And this spring I will revisit my notes and blog my results. Of course, I must add the disclaimer that just because this might work for me, it may not be for everyone struggling with depression. The best thing to do is to see a trusted doctor and also get therapy especially if you’re not quite sure depression is what is going on with you. Rule out medical conditions because you don’t want to guess you have something when it could be something serious medically. Therapy is also a great tool especially if you have things in your past that may still bother you, even subconsciously. Every now and then I go get a check up as I call it. But try getting out in nature as well. It doesn’t cost much and see how you feel after 20-30 minutes.

Remember, depression affections millions of us, you don’t have to have anything bad going on in your life to be depressed, it can be biological. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s no different than having something like hypothyroidism or another illness. We understand so little about the brain right now. Go with your gut and if your depression gets severe, get help.

I’ll be reporting back later with my results. So give it a try, the nature antidote. Get outside!

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Food Journal – Week 7 Check In/My Nature Prescription

Almost seven weeks have passed since I started using the food journal app consistently.  My goal is to make it at least 3 months or twelve weeks so I am over half way there.  It has started to become a habit so it seems less cumbersome.  In essence, using the food journal has started becoming a habit and not a nuisance.  I am snacking much less and when I do, I am much more selective about what I eat as a snack.  The best thing is that it has stopped my mindless eating which I believe was one of my biggest challenges.  The other challenge was we eat out a lot and now we have shifted to cooking more just because it is easier to control the calories you ingest.

The other benefit of the food journal is planning.  For New Year’s Eve, we knew we were going out to dinner at a nice restaurant.  We went online to see what they were offering on their NYE menu and we planned it out ahead of time what we wanted to eat and the estimated calories.  Then the rest of the day, we ate lighter to allow for a heavier meal.  Though to be honest, I ate too much.  I really didn’t need either the few small slices of rye bread (mmmm) and butter or the triple chocolate cake we split.  I think I would have given up the triple chocolate cake before the bread.  It was simply too sweet.  But the main point here is making choices and thinking ahead.  And not depriving yourself.  If I deprive myself, I binge and I also feel rebellious which in turn makes things worse.  The key is to know yourself, your triggers and figure out what works for you. You can try to follow expert advice or mine (not expert) but really I find you have to do what works for you. And no deprivation.  No foods are off limit.  No restaurants you can’t eat in.  Depriving yourself doesn’t work as a lifestyle change.  This for me is exactly that.  It has to be otherwise I will slip back and gain the weight (and more) back.

Actually I don’t really care about the weight, I am using it and measurements as a marker but mostly it is how my clothes fit.  Because I can shrink inches and not lose a pound.  I can actually gain weight while losing size because of muscle gain especially if I am training or working out hard.  However, since I am keeping track of my weight, I have lost 11.8 lbs in that 7 weeks or about 1.5 lbs a week average.  My highest weight recorded was this past May (I didn’t record it often then) and using that number, I have lost 15 pounds.  Which means I have made a 50% dent in the ~30 pounds I gained over last winter.

They say how hard it is to lose weight when you get older and especially when you edge into menopause.  However, I have been really surprised how fast and dare I say, easy, this has been.  Other than the annoyance of getting into the habit of using the food journal which with smart phones really isn’t that hard and just adjusting how I eat, I really haven’t made huge changes other than not overeating and being more cautious about eating out.  I still eat ice cream and chocolate and candy bars and popcorn at the movies (small no butter – but I don’t miss the greasy butter which used to make me sick).  I’ve reduced my soda drinking and replaced it with oolong tea in the morning and early afternoon.  The crazy thing about the oolong tea is that I haven’t had a migraine since I started drinking two (large) cups of it a day.  Sometimes if I decreased how much I ate, I would get a searing migraine.  But I haven’t had one in weeks.  I think the second benefit from the tea is that it makes me less hungry due to the caffeine content.  This is not something to drink late afternoon or bedtime.

Also, my husband finally set up our rower in the basement.  It is one with the water tank (House of Cards viewers will know the one) and even on the lowest resistance, I find this to be a touch workout.  It’s not quite been set up a week but I can only do 15 minutes with frequent breaks.  The nice thing is I can take the breaks whereas on my bike rollers, I couldn’t do so as easily.  They claim it works 85% of your muscle groups and I really think it does.  But the best benefit is I’m getting a good cardio workout without having to go to a germy gym and fighting for equipment.  I watch Netflix or listen to music and row away.  Well row a bit then stop, row, stop, row, stop.  You get the idea.

My app (My Plate) credits you earned calories when you workout (it also will link to other apps or you phone if it counts your steps and automatically calculate estimated calories burned).  Though I don’t use the adjusted added calories usually, I try to stick right around the prescribed number allowed each day before exercise, I know that working out affords me more fudge room.  I row, bike and hike for ice cream.  And to feel better.  I am feeling much more energetic, less tired and I’ve accomplished a lot more around the house than I normally do.  Last winter, I turned into a slug.  This year, I’m keeping active though not in the intensity that I do in the warmer months.

Oh, and my winter depression or (SADD)…  Initially I had been using the idea that vigorous/moderate exercise alleviated my year-round struggle with depression.  I noticed big changes when I felt depressed then got out for 30+ minutes riding my bike.  Similar to a runner’s high.  Two winters ago, I tested that theory by joining the Y again.  I could work out on the elliptical for an hour, hard, and not see the same results.  That was frustrating.  I tried the stationary bikes that they use for  the cycling classes.  I tried walk/running on a treadmill.  Never did I get the same result.  It didn’t help my depression at all.

Then I figured it out.  I have to be outside, in nature for 30+ minutes several times a week to help my depression.  Sometimes it’s so cold (Ohio weather), I have to do short walks out into my back yard and breathe in the air and notice the landscape around me (I’m fortunate that I live in the country).   This seems to help as well.  Just multiple shorter trips outside make a difference.  It is even better if I can do it on a sunny day.  But the prescription seems to be not vigorous exercise so much as the outdoors.  Breathing in the fresh air, seeing the sun, and so on.  But it is not just the outdoors, it’s being away from urban areas and into nature.

Stanford University had some encouraging findings about my theory http://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/.  That is why when I lived in town and would walk in the winter, it never seemed to help my depression.  Now I live in the country and I can just walk into my back yard and be surrounded by nature.  But there are parks I visit as well.  My cousin experiences this phenomenon as well.  He gets ancy and depressed if he can’t get away from the city and into nature.  Maybe out genetic makeup is more sensitive to being indoors or urban places.

I have deemed it my “Nature Prescription” which is a hella lot better than Zoloft and all its side effects.  As long as I get outside 3-4 times a week for about two hours total (my guess), my depression (SADD) seems to stay at bay.  So it wasn’t so much the vigorous exercise as I first believed (though there are studies to prove this) but being out in nature that really triggered my brain to act right.   I am still forming my hypothesis but so far based on my experience, this seems to be what works for me.  I am not a physician or a psychologist so I really can’t shell out medical advice.  This is simply my experience.  Exercise also helps regardless of where I perform it as I can feel a big difference in my attitude when I am not active.  That and I feel like a fat slug.  A juicy one that looks like it’s gonna pop at any minute.

As I write this, the sun is out glistening on the new fallen snow and the temperature is 1 degree which feels like -10 degrees  with the windchill.  I will get my nature dose simply by bundling up and taking the dog out to potty.  For like 2 minutes at a time.  Whatever works.

That’s the key, do what works for you and Happy Damn It’s F’ing Cold January!

Gross (Samuel) Memorial Woods, Botkins – Ohio Nature Preserve Review/Info

Our first adventure was the nature preserve closest to our home, the Gross Memorial Woods in between Botkins and Jackson Center, Ohio on Botkins Road.  

Kiosk and the start of the boardwalk


Basic info:

Location: Botkins Road, Shelby County, Jackson Center, OH 45334 – 6 miles east of I-75 on Botkins Road or 3.5 miles north of Jackson Center.

Acreage: 49 wooded acres. Trail: ~ 1/2 mile loop wood boardwalk.  Suitable for families – more rugged strollers may traverse the boardwalk.  Level, easy trail with three benches along the loop.

Parking: a small gravel lot allows for multiple cars.  An informational kiosk stands in the parking lot next to the start of the trail (trailhead).

Cautions: No pets allowed, no picking or removal of natural items, boardwalk will be slippery when wet, some boards on the boardwalk need replaced so watch your step, some poison ivy near the benches and trail, marshy area – bring bug spray, no facilities (bring water, etc.).

Review:  Gross Woods was a gift of Samuel Gross in 1980.  According to ODNR’s site, it is a good example of old-growth woods in west central Ohio and also home to the rare pumpkin ash tree.  I’m not sure what a pumpkin ash looks like but now that I have read about it, I am definitely going to try and locate one on my next visit.

Lush greenery flank the boardwalk


My visits to Gross Woods have been mostly undisturbed by other visitors and you almost always have the place to yourself.  Remember bug spray, even in the early spring, insects seem to be plentiful here due to the marshy area.  You enter by stepping onto the boardwalk and being immediately shrouded by trees.  In the spring, there are multitudes of wild flowers, so many that I had to get out several of my wildflower books to identify them all.  We found different types of trillium, jack in the pulpit, hepatica, blood root, phlox, mayapples to name a few.

While the woods sits close to the road, there isn’t a lot of road noise and since the area is rural, you can sit on a bench and enjoy the peacefulness of nature.  You will hear a lot of rustling in the leaf litter on the ground under the trees as this is also home to many salamanders and skinks.  Once it gets warm, if you look closely enough and are stealthy, you may just see one.  I’m terrified of snakes and am sure they live here in this woods but I am always relieved to find out the rustling is something bearing legs.


Though the boardwalk is only 1/2 mile long, I will do the loop first clockwise and then repeat it counter clockwise.  Walking both directions is a great way to see even more on your visit.  While it seems like the landscape doesn’t alter much, there is so much to see in such a short walk.  Trees that have fallen over which have a line of plants growing on the top side of their trunks almost remind me of something you would see in a Lord of the Rings movie.  Even mid- July we found some flowers blooming such as delphinium.  We saw a salamander or skink with light blue coloring.  I am no expert on reptiles but it sure was cute as it shyly skittered back under the leaves and out of our sight.  There is plenty of shade as the tree canopy is very full above you, though I would still wear sunscreen to be safe.


The boardwalk is wide enough you can walk side by side with another person making it a pleasant place to chat while you stroll.  However, you need to keep an eye on the boards, as a few of them could trip you up but overall as of July 2016, the boardwalk was in pretty good shape.  If you love peaceful woods, vibrant green in mid-summer or full of wildflowers in the spring, this is a great place to visit.  It is a good place for those with limited physical fitness due to illness or age, etc. with three benches that are spaced at good intervals to allow a place to rest.

A short walk, plenty of wildflowers in the spring, quiet and little interruption from other visitors makes this one of my favorite nature preserves.

Ohio’s Nature Preserves – Little Hidden Gems

So I’ve been lacking ideas for posts.  I go back and forth and around on what to write.  Today my youngest daughter and I decided to go do some hiking even though it was going to be in the 90’s, we figured if we could find wooded trails, it wouldn’t be too unbearable.   There is a small preserve not far from my home, that is set into a woods with a half mile boardwalk.  At the trail head, there is an announcement board/kiosk with information regarding the preserve plus a brochure on Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s  (ODNR) other preserves.  My daughter picked on of those up on our way back out to my truck.

We were sitting in the air conditioning trying to decide what to do next.  On the last page of the brochure is a map of Ohio with all the current preserves pinned on it with each preserve’s name.  We realized we hadn’t been to most of these places on the map and the idea for a new blog direction and many possible adventures cropped up in our mind.  We would visit them, take pictures and write a review of each preserve.  To us, they feel like little hidden gems that usually are empty of other people, though some preserves such as Conkles Hollow in Hocking Hills are much more well known.  We, being the lovers of solitude in nature, gravitate toward lesser known and used areas and are excited to explore these areas.

Ohio’s nature preserves in general do not allow pets, they do not usually have any facilities such as bathrooms or water and you must pack out your trash usually.  Some may not even have clearly designated parking areas (you may just pull off the side of the road).  Trails may be somewhat more rugged and less maintained.  You are not allowed to pick or remove any natural items such as flowers or rocks.  However, you will find a varied landscape in each preserve along with endangered species of plants, insects and birds.  This land is set aside to “preserve” what is left of unsettled or reclaim formerly settled lands to their natural state.  

According to ODNR there are 136 nature preserves with ore than 30,000 acres in the great state of Ohio.  Partners such as businesses and groups as well as volunteers assist the state in keeping these lands available for our enjoyment and use.  Most of the time, you probably just drive by a nature preserve without even realizing it.  They are usually only marked with a dark brown sign with white lettering and a kiosk/ message board.  There is no big sign announcing their presence such as Ohio’s state park system so you have to look just a little bit harder for a preserve.  Sometimes, you pull into the parking lot and are hesitant to explore because the area isn’t developed like state parks or metro parks may be.   The goal is to preserve the land and leave it as untouched as possible by humans while letting people enjoy the land as well.  

As we (or me) explore each nature preserve, I will update this post to include the preserve’s name as well as a link to the review post for that particular park.  I hope you enjoy this adventure with me as I have already started and have found as my daughter state, some hidden gems, we had no clue existed.  Just remember to pack plenty of water and prepare for minimal or no facilities.  Happy trails!  

Gross Memorial Woods

Sigenthaler-Kaestner Esker Nature Preseve