Incorporating Nature Into Mental Health and Substance Use Recovery

Incorporating Nature Into Mental Health and Substance Use Recovery

Updated on 01/25/24

In April, spring is in full swing. The weather in many areas is getting warmer, flowers are springing up, and we feel the call to be outdoors more. There is something magical about being outside, surrounded by the beauty of nature. It does not matter whether it is a stunning beach, lush forest, park, green space at an apartment complex or a favorite backyard spot.

There is growing evidence that spending time in nature can have numerous mental health benefits. Mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) treatment facilities understand this and provide opportunities to engage with nature as part of their treatment programs. 

Incorporating Nature Into Your Mental Health and SUD Recovery

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) working definition of recovery from mental health disorders and SUDs is “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” Recovery often begins with seeking help from trained professionals at an inpatient or outpatient level of care. However, you can also use the healing power of nature to help you improve your health and wellness and achieve your recovery goals. Incorporating time outdoors in nature can make the recovery journey more peaceful and joyful.

If you are unsure where to begin, there are many easy ways to spend more time immersed in nature. Some examples include:

  • Take a walk outside. Being out in the sun and fresh air for a few minutes each day can boost mood and morale. Even if it is raining, grab an umbrella and enjoy the sound of the rain pattering on your umbrella. Nature walk therapy provides a number of benefits to both physical and mental health.
  • Enjoying a nearby park. You can pack a picnic lunch and bring a book to read or do some journaling on a beautiful day.
  • Going for a hike. Whether you venture into the woods or the desert, get moving and challenge yourself by going for a hike.
  • Making a splash. If you live near water and the weather is right, go for a swim. You could also rent a paddleboard, canoe or kayak to enjoy the water.
  • Creating an outdoor retreat. Even if you have a small porch, balcony or backyard, you can still carve out a space to relax and enjoy some time outdoors.
  • Getting some friends together and being active. Try volleyball, dodgeball, basketball or football. If there are only two of you, tennis or badminton are options.
  • Growing things. You don’t have to have a vast garden or flower bed. Just a few potted plants will do. Having a few plants indoors can help you bring a bit of nature inside with you.

How Nature Help with Recovery

According to Jim Robbins in his article for Yale Environment 360, more and more studies indicate nature is healing for the body and the mind. There are several ways engaging with the natural world can help you successfully recover from mental health disorders and SUDs. Robbins, J. (2020, January 9). Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health. Yale E360. These ways can include:

  • Preventing boredom. A common trigger for many people with SUDs is boredom. For those who get bored indoors, getting out of the house and enjoying an activity outdoors can help prevent relapse due to lack of stimulation.
  • Relieving stress. Stress can trigger substance use, and it can aggravate mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Being in nature can lower stress hormones and promote feelings of relaxation.
  • Boosting mood. Sometimes people use substances to self-medicate against depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Spending time immersed in nature can improve mood, increase self-esteem, promote calm and decrease feelings of isolation.
  • Exercising outdoors and increasing the benefits. Exercising can increase endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, benefiting those with mental health disorders. It can also be beneficial for those recovering from SUDs which can alter neurotransmitter levels in the brain. In addition, when you exercise outside, you can reap the benefits of increased blood flow in fresh air while taking in the great outdoors.

Treatment Facilities and Bringing Nature Into SUD and Mental Health Care

Mental health and SUD treatment facilities are starting to weave the healing powers of nature into traditional evidence-based treatment. Such activities may include:

  • Focusing on landscaping. Including flowers, water features and green spaces for relaxing to the landscaping can add serene energy to the facility.
  • Scheduling outings. Some attractive places include parks, beaches or even walking tracks, which allow for a change of scenery and an opportunity to enjoy being outdoors.
  • Holding group or individual therapy sessions. Participating in therapy outdoors can calm nerves and promote vulnerability and creative thinking.
  • Ropes courses. Completing ropes courses can promote problem-solving, teamwork and self-esteem. This activity also encourages time in the sun and fresh air.
  • Indoor plants. Adding nontoxic plants to indoor decor allows treatment facilities to bring a little bit of the outdoors inside.

An increasing focus of treatment of SUDs is for patients to be more than just free of symptoms. The aim is for patients to also have a high quality of life. Former SAMSHA director Charles Curie even said, “Recovery is when patients are not just free of symptoms—they have a life.” Whether you are just starting your recovery journey or have been in recovery for years, safely including nature into mental health or SUD recovery can help you stay healthy, abstinent and improve your quality of life.

Nature can be a powerful tool when used as part of a recovery program from substance use and mental health disorders. At Casa Palmera, we believe in approaching treatment from a holistic perspective. Our beautiful Del Mar, California location is the optimal environment for healing if you want to experience evidence-based treatment combined with ancient eastern intuitive practices that treat the whole person. Call Casa Palmera today at (855) 508-0473 to learn how we can help.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.